How much angst could someone feel toward a community garden?
How upset could someone be while imagining hearty-looking tomato plants that stand hip-high and trellises of string beans and dark, rich soil covered with thick green cucumbers? Could anyone really feel threatened by visions of fresh fruit and vegetables?
Sure they could.
On Pine Top Road, a group of residents seethed when they thought of the town’s plans to build a community garden on the neighboring Vitullo property.
It was not so much the tomatoes or beets or watermelons that made them angry. That they could live with. After all, the Vitullo property had been home to a farm for generations.
No, it was the location of a parking lot that irked them. That, and the apparent attitude taken by the community garden organizing committee that made this project seem like a done deal, said John Persinos.
“They acted like it was a fait accompli,” Mr. Persinos said. “That’s what really stuck in our craw.”
That is what happened at a recent community garden meeting, said Mr. Persinos.
According to Mr. Persinos, some members of the garden committee opened a recent meeting with a certain air about them. That changed, however, once abutters to the Vitullo property started talking.
The residents spoke about their concerns with a public parking lot located so close to their homes. They pointed to a history of problems the town has experienced with the nearby bird sanctuaries on Route 114 — the areas have been known as meeting spots for sexual encounters.
“We’re used to leaving our doors unlocked around here,” Mr. Persinos said. “This could increase burglary rates.”
But as Pine Top Road residents began digging in their heels and readying for a fight — two lawyers who live in that neighborhood had promised to offer their services free of charge in a potential lawsuit against the town — the garden organizers surprised them.
“They quickly adapted when they saw where the crowd’s mood was going,” Mr. Persinos said. “They said ‘OK, maybe we can move the parking lot over here.’ They started to get creative.”
Cyndee Fuller, the chairwoman of the town’s conservation commission and a member of the community garden committee, said her group was very receptive to the neighbors’ concerns.
“The people who live next to it need to be happy,” she said. “I think we had a lot of support for the concept, but the details were problematic.”
Ms. Fuller said the initial proposed location of the parking lot had more to do with an old barn that was situated at the eastern edge of the land. The barn was in rough shape — the back half of it had collapsed and the front was not much better — and needed to be raised. The garden committee proposed removing the barn and building a parking lot in the same space, especially since the soil there would need a substantial amount of work to make it suitable for gardening.
When abutters voiced concerns, the committee shifted its plans.
“It’s not like we’re private developers trying to make a bunch of money,” she said. “I can understand their (the neighbors’) positions.”
Ms. Fuller said a new location for the parking lot has not been ironed out yet. It could be put closer to Route 114 where the Vitullo’s vegetable stand is currently located.
Mr. Persinos was pleased with the committee’s willingness to adapt and adjust.
“It (the meeting) ended on a positive note. They genuinely want to work with us,” Mr. Persinos said. “I think it was a wake-up call for them. They’re now listening to us and inviting us to meetings. It’s a give-and-take, a collaborative process.
“I think people underestimate how much power they have at the grassroots level.”
Ms. Fuller said there is much work left to be done on the community garden plan.
“I’m glad the neighbors came out,” she said. “It means they’re engaged. We want to make it the best for everyone.”
Barrington Community Garden would be established on a section of town-owned conservation land located just south of the East Providence border near Route 114. The town purchased the land in 2003; for generations it has been used for farming. There is an existing well on the property and individual lots would be leased to Barrington residents for a small fee. The lots will be 10 feet by 20 feet. A fence will be built around the community gardens and a shed would be constructed to store communal gardening equipment. Stuart Weymouth, a son of town council member Kate Weymouth, first proposed the garden concept as part of a college project. A committee has been formed including Cyndee Fuller, Bonnie Grassie-Hughes, Kim Jacobs, Eivy Monroy and Kate Weymouth.
“Although there is an existing community garden at the town’s Walker Farm, there are insufficient garden plots available to meet the needs of all interested Barrington residents. The Walker Farm property was purchased with federal funds and, as a result, all state residents are eligible to lease a plot. As a consequence, Walker Farm has been predominantly used by out-of- town residents since the farm was first opened to the public in the 1970s, and the available 25 plots have a very slow rate of turnover, with plots unavailable for new lessees in most years. Conversely, the land on which the Barrington Community Garden is proposed was purchased with town funds, so there is no requirement to make plots available to out-of-town residents. The Barrington Community Garden can give priority to Barrington residents,” stated the proposal.