Community gardeners recall Irene’s visit

The story of Sharissa Dunavan’s community garden never made the papers in the days following Tropical Storm Irene. It was known only to her friends and to those who followed her on Facebook.

For her, the memory of the Mettowee River inundating a carefully cultivated garden with more than four feet of water will remain indelible in her memory.

“It was an absolutely wonderful experience that ended absolutely horribly,” said Dunavan, who remembers her daughter Cassidy in tears upon seeing the remnants of the garden, which had produced well over 300 pounds of fresh vegetables for the Mettowee Valley Ecumenical Food Pantry. “But it punctuated the lessons we learned.

“It was a really cool experience,” said Dunavan, who said she simply did not have the time to do it again this summer. “I wish I had the time to do it again.”

 

Accidental garden

 

Dunavan’s Facebook journal tells the story of a garden that was not planned but became the focus of the summer for her, her children and others.

The 2,000 square-foot plot in the River Park off Church Street was tilled and fenced in by Granville’s FFA students in April.

Dunavan’s 4-H youth group became de facto owners of the plot.

“As luck would have it, the garden was handed over to our club simply because we already had dozens of egg cartons with seedlings already started. I knew when I was told to ‘go for it” that it was going to be a handful, but little did I know how the next four months would play out.

“I promised our seven 4-h kids we’d do this. They were excited and you all know I was excited. Geesh, I was raised a farm girl in the Midwest, I love playing in the dirt; excited didn’t even begin to cover it! And then Mother Nature began to pay attention. As you are all aware, she and I don’t always see eye to eye,” she wrote in her blog.

The summary is that there was a lot more rain from May to August last year than just the storm or two we might remember.

It was too wet to till in May, but Dunavan said she made a promise to see it through.

“Success or failure was of no concern to me, all I could think of was that I’d made a promise and come hell or high water I’d keep my promise,” she wrote. “We started the garden with high water; little did I know how it all would end.”

On May 27, the ground was mostly dry, but Dunavan and her group had no access to a tiller, so it was time for shovels. Eight hours later, she got word a tiller would be available the next day.

Then it rained.

But that didn’t stop two local men from running the tiller and two others from laying the garden fabric. Planting had finally begun.

What followed was a dry spell that saw Dunavan bringing 30-gallon jugs to the site, until the group obtained a 55-gallon drum, which was filled by Granville Hook and ladder, drained by vandals and then refilled and locked.

Then it rained.

And there were weeds.

“I was given the opportunity to supervise kids that had been court ordered to do community service. Free weed pullers — yippee! I like playing in the dirt, but not necessarily if there are weeds attached, so this was perfect,” she wrote on Facebook. “I went to meet up with the kids and their parents and it rained. Rained us out. But I think that was the last time, for quite a while, that it rained.”

That led to a new phrase — “tomato jungle” — but finally it dried enough that the weed-pullers could get to work.

On July 8, the group took its first harvest to the food pantry — just over four pounds of herbs, green beans and a few cucumbers. The following week was 14.5 pounds, including zucchini.

“Hey, it was a start, and that was a lot of herbs.” she said.

The following week, Dunavan was sad to say, there was no harvest, because of transmission issues with her car, but on July 29 — “Holy Zucchini Day” — as she put it, the haul was 88 pounds, followed by 29 pounds the next week, 80 pounds Aug. 12, 70 pounds a week later and 102 pounds on Aug. 26, including 77 pounds of tomatoes.

 

A sad ending

 

Dunavan picks up there.

“August 28, 2011 Hurricane Irene came for a visit. She was merely a tropical storm by the time she rolled into our area late on the 27.. Little did I know, as I lounged on the couch all day what an impact she was making on our little community.

“At about 5:30 pm my cell phone rang. Our garden was no more. I immediately ran out, camera in hand, still not believing, despite the fact that once again it had rained.

“With water still rising, I witnessed our little community garden, the space that I had fallen in love with, found solace in, learned so much about myself in, under four feet of water. I cried. Tears ran down my cheeks as I was screaming inside. How selfish I was to be so upset by a bunch of plants. People’s homes were in jeopardy and I was mourning the loss of a ‘tomato jungle.’ [But] I’d made a promise.

“I’d made a promise, and I’d kept it. I reassured myself and taught my children, and hopefully our 4-H kids, that no matter the outcome, as long as you work until you are tired enough to fall asleep standing up, try your hardest, even without all the physical help you’d hoped for, keep doing what you promised until it was done you were a success. I think I learned, and gained as much, if not more, than the kids during this.

“Despite the times I felt alone and overwhelmed, I kept going. Tired and frustrated, I kept going. And looking back now, I realize how alone I really was,” she wrote to her friends in the community

“I wasn’t for a minute alone. I, we, the club, had the support and often times the help of many of you in so many ways. Just because you physically weren’t there, you were a part of this too. This garden, no matter how many hours I put in of my own free will, is still and always will be OUR community garden. Our kids needed this, our community needed this, and yes, even I needed this experience and I thank each and every one of you that had any hand in it in any manner for what you have done. I could never have done this alone, and I didn’t do this alone, and I thank you. You all have made me proud, from the youngest member of our club, to the random members and businesses of the Granville community that gave and supported. I am proud.”

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