By Charlie M. Holmes
---- — A little before 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon Kristen Griger was standing in the middle of Cooperstown’s Main Street near the intersection of River Street. Stretching out behind her were several folding tables that were lined up end-to-end. The tables ran down the middle of Main Street, spanning the entire block between Fair and River streets.
As Griger talked, a car that had just made its way down the east side of Lake Otsego rolled to a stop next to her.
“What’s going on?” the man in the passenger seat called to Griger.
“We’re having a community potluck dinner tonight on Main Street at our gigantic dinner table,” Griger explained. “Everyone’s welcome. You just bring a dish to share.”
The concept of having a potluck dinner was generated a few months ago during one of Growing Community’s monthly meetings.
“This idea came from M.J. Harris, who came to one of our first meetings,” Rebecca Weil said. “We said, ‘What is everyone’s ideas for things to do with local harvest?’ and she said, ‘A table down Main Street for dinner.’”
“It was a little dream,” Harris said, recalling the meeting. “A little fantasy. It became a reality thanks to Growing Community. They just took hold of it.”
Harris said an article she had seen in a magazine was the catalyst for the idea.
“I just thought in this day and age we need to kind of build community again,” Harris said. About the same time, another group in Cooperstown had begun having meetings to discuss the idea of having an end-of-the season event that would draw village residents back to downtown.
“I saw Kristen (Griger) this summer and she said, ‘We have this idea’ and I said, ‘Well, we have this idea. What do you think about incorporating it?’” Mayor Jeff Katz recalled. “Growing Community was willing to be a part of it, and I’ve got to say over the past week this is what people have been talking about. I’m really happy they joined in this weekend.”
Over the summer, Growing Community has been living up to its name in more ways than one. With the donation of some land from the Iverson family, members built a food pantry garden on Beaver Meadow Road.
“There were probably 20 people (volunteering) and in three hours we built the garden,” Griger said. “The amazing thing is that we started it in August, and they are now harvesting from it.”
The group also sold Harvest Boxes that people filled with excess food so they could share their homegrown vegetables with their neighbors free of charge.
“It was pretty rewarding to drive around the neighborhoods and see them out on lawns,” Griger said with a smile. “There was one that was even set up in the farmers’ market for people to purchase something extra and stick in that box. The items in that box went to the food pantry.”
Soon village residents will see one of Growing Community’s Harvest Boxes on the steps of the library.
“So if I live out of town, which I do, I can come in and drop off my extra tomatoes or cucumbers there, too,” Weil said.
Growing Community is also going to make it easy to search for your agriculture needs from the comfort of your home. The group is in the process of building a website that it intends to be a resource sharing site.
“There are so many groups around here doing great things,” Weil stated. “What we want to do is have a place where someone can go and have one stop links to all of them, so they can see who has the honey making workshop at the Farmers Museum or who has the seed saving workshop at Cornell Cooperative or who has chicken eggs to share.”
Over the summer Growing Community had monthly meetings that people who wanted to learn more about agriculture attended.
“We’ve talked about saving seeds. We’ve talked about how to put up your produce for the winter – different methods of canning or preserving. We have another program coming up on how to plan your garden,” Griger said.
The “Planning Your Spring Garden” program will take place Tuesday, Nov. 27, at a location that is still to be determined.
“It’s from 7 to 8 p.m. It’s a one hour meeting and everyone is welcome,” Weil said.
For those people who are a little intimidated by starting their first garden, the members of Growing Community offer to come to their house to help put a garden in.
“Our goal was to bring everyone together and share,” Weil stated. “It also makes it more fun, even if you are already gardening, to have other people you’re doing it with. One of the things we’ve started are weed exchanges where you go and weed at a friends house and they come back and weed at yours. It’s a lot of fun.”
Growing Community’s efforts haven’t just been limited to individuals. It has also encouraged local businesses to grow a small vegetable garden.
“The idea was to show people that edibles can be attractive, and that they don’t have to give up attractive landscaping,” Ellen Pope explained.
Pope said that Rick Busse, who owns the All American Cafe, actually ended up winning an award for most beautiful display.
“If you look closely there’s Swiss chard. There were tomatoes. There’s garlic, nasturtiums, oregano mixed in with flowers. You have to look very closely to see that there are edibles mixed in there,” Pope said.
Growing Community would like to see more businesses plant an edible garden next spring and say that it is willing to assess the businesses location to give advice about the best vegetables to plant, according to the businesses exposure.
To learn more about Growing Community email firstname.lastname@example.org, keep an eye on the Crier to learn the location of the November meeting when its determined and visit growing-community.org to watch its website grow from its construction phase to a full-blown resource sharing site.