Community Gardens Brought Fresh Produce and Comfort to Faculty and Staff this Summer

The Loomis Chaffee community gardens served as both communal space and a much-needed escape during times of uncertainty for faculty, staff, and their families this summer.

 History teacher Elliott Dial with his wife,   Molly, and their dog, Sachem, in their   garden.

“This year, we had the largest amount of new people join the gardens that I’ve seen in a long time,” said Gratia Lee, Agricultural Program coordinator.

For both newcomers to the gardens and returning green-thumbs, each plot brought comfort, appreciation, connection, and fresh food to community members amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic and this time of uncertainty, it’s nice to have a place to be able to go outside because, I think, it gives people a sense of purpose,” said Gratia.

Director of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Cleary expressed gratitude for her garden. “It gave me a sense of accomplishment during a time when it was challenging to feel as though we were making progress anywhere else,” she said.

Similarly, the community gardens gave Ali Murphy, associate director of admissions, a sense of hope. “My garden provided much-needed distraction during this surreal summer,” Ali said. “The early morning watering, watching to see what seeds would grow into plants, the excitement in picking the veggies and fruit, interacting with colleagues and their children when planting and weeding, and finally, making soup, bruschetta, pickles, pesto, and zucchini bread for my family and others. All of these brought me so much joy. I’m so grateful that Loomis has dedicated space and resources for our community in this way.”

For many faculty and staff, the gardens also provided an opportunity to bond with their loved ones.

Faculty members Jen and Andrew Solomon in their garden with their children.

With the help of her 2-year-old, science teacher Erica Gerace and her family enjoyed tending to their first-ever plot and watching their plants grow. “The garden gave us a place to go each day, taught us a lot about growing various vegetables and herbs, and yielded enough basil to add to three meals a day!” Erica said.

Language teacher Rachel Nisselson’s garden played a key role in keeping her family's bellies and hearts full. “Crossing paths with other gardeners brightened my days; the evening in June when many of us overlapped at the gardens by chance almost brought tears to my eyes,” she said.

For COVID-19 Coordinator Mary Liscinsky, spending time in her garden brought back lovely memories. "My dad grew up on a farm, and every time I am in my little garden, I feel connected to him," said Mary. "I also love that every summer is different from the summer before and the summer to follow. Some summers I receive an abundance of squash and no cucumbers. The next summer, not one squash comes to fruition but, wow, do I have a lot of green beans!" she said.

 Language teacher Rachel Nisselson in her   garden.

“It’s rewarding and frustrating,” Gratia reflected. “You don’t have complete control, mother nature does, and I think that’s what’s fun about it.”

Dean of Student Life Jessica Matzkin and her husband, Brian Shactman, accepted the challenges that come with gardening this summer. “We had very little gardening experience going into this growing season, and to be honest, we had a mixture of success and failure,” Jessica said. “The interesting thing is that we embraced both wholeheartedly.”

“Whether it be our family walks at dusk to water, or pickling our cucumbers, or the sadness of losing our sunflowers in the storm ... it brought our family closer during a difficult time. We are grateful for that. We also had wonderful conversations with our gardening neighbors and learned so much from the whole community,” she said. “We already are talking about what changes need to be made to be even better next year.”