Community Garden

Bryan Farr and Michele Kenney of the Countryside Community Garden in Russell. (Photo by Amy Porter)
Photo by Amy Porter, Westfield News (see article below)
The Friends of the SHAEC are proud to offer the hilltown communities a place to learn and grow organic produce. It is our goal to empower Hilltown residents to take some control over their food production, by offering classes on sustainable time-saving organic gardening techniques, as well as providing a physical location to plant for those who are unable to plant a garden at their residence. 

The Countryside Community Garden is an educational outreach of the Friends of the Southern Hilltowns Adult Education Center, to facilitate the practice and preservation of organic and sustainable garden techniques. Therefore, no chemical or non-organic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers are allowed. We also do not allow genetically modified starts or seeds.
If you may be interested in either having a garden plot, or may be willing to share your expertise/experience with new gardeners, please don't hesitate to contact us at SHAEC. Also, as the weather warms and we can once again access our sheds and garages, please consider donating unused garden tools and equipment to the SHAEC garden project.

Check out the article from the Westfield News on the Community Garden: provided courtesy of The Westfield News




Growing vegetables community garden style


RUSSELL – It’s still early in the planting season for the Countryside Community Garden on Route 20 in Russell. An educational outreach of the Friends of SHAEC (Southern Hilltowns Adult Education Center), the community garden is in its third year, thanks to a generous donation of land use by Ron Hess, owner of Countryside Woodcraft next door.
A sign on Route 20 in Russell for the Countryside Community Garden. (Photo by Amy Porter)
A sign on Route 20 in Russell for the Countryside Community Garden. (Photo by Amy Porter)
“That’s why we named it Countryside Community Garden,” said Michele Kenney, program director for SHAEC. Kenney said there are 36 plots in the garden being farmed by residents from Russell, Huntington, Chester, Middlefield, and one from Westfield. Some share plots, some are family plots, she said.
Kenney said the garden is a community effort, with no real funding but a lot of networking and generosity behind it. Plots cost $20 to rent, and this year included seeds donated by High Mowing Organic Seeds of Wolcott, Vermont. Kenney said members use all organic practices in the garden.
Nelson Oaks, 74 of Chester, came last week and tilled fourteen of the plots for members. He’s going to do a few more on Wednesday, Kenney said.
The focus of SHAEC is on adult basic education and computer literacy, but has also grown to include classes in sustainability. At the community garden, classes to support home gardening have included such topics as building a hoop house greenhouse, identification of garden insects, building a compost pile, permaculture, and companion planting. Some of the classes have been taught by AmeriCorps volunteers in conjunction with the Hilltown Land Trust.
Other classes encourage the preservation of garden produce, such as pickling and canning. More recently, thanks to community volunteers, SHAEC has offered classes in home cheese making, raising sheep, utilizing wool, and other sustainable farming classes.
This year, flax seeds were donated to the Countryside Community Garden as part of an effort by SHAEC teacher Lisa Westervelt, who raises sheep in Cummington, to start a Massachusetts Fibershed in the area. Linen fibers come from the flax plant. Laurie Mikalunas of the United Bank in Huntington, who has an interest in the Fibershed has volunteered to keep an eye on the flowers.
Another gardener, Ken Conway, is working to preserve heirloom varieties of Andean root vegetables in his plot.
On Monday, Bryan Farr, Executive Director of Historic Route 20 and a member of the Jacob Ladder’s Business Association, said he will be growing heirloom tomatoes, beans, cucumbers for pickling, and peppers on his 1 ½ plots.
“We do a lot of canning,” Farr said. He said his house on a hillside in Chester has too many trees to grow plants requiring full sun.
Also planting his well-manicured plot was Olan Horne of Huntington. Horne, who moved into an apartment two years ago after having surgery, said he has been gardening all his life.
“Without this, I would never have had access to a garden this year. For me, it’s more than planting a few plants,” Horne said.
Although the plots are all taken this year, gardening class offerings are free and open to the public. This Friday, Billy Crawford of New England Apiaries, who keeps bees in the rear of the garden, will offer a beekeeping class from 7 to 9 p.m. in the SHAEC classroom, Room 152, at Gateway Regional High School.
Class offerings are updated monthly on the website at www.SHAEC.org or on Facebook at Southern Hilltowns Aec.


The SHAEC is a program of the UMass Labor/Management Workplace Education Program and is funded by a Community Development Block Grant from the Mass Dept. of Housing and Community Development through the lead town of Russell, in partnership with Chester, and Middlefield.