By K.C. MYERS April 11, 2010

WEST BARNSTABLE — Despite the warm weather, master gardeners caution against a full-on planting effort this early in the season.

Yet the yearning to work the soil was hard to overlook at the Meetinghouse Farm's first Gardener's Swap yesterday.

Taking root

What you can do now in the garden:

  • Turn the soil
  • Add compost, manure
  • Divide and move plants
  • Start indoor seedlings
  • Plant cold crops, e.g., cabbage, lettuce, peas, carrots

Source: Master gardeners Lynne Dowdall and Donna Lawson.

Gardeners brought old tools, then got to take home what others brought. It was a quiet swap, fruitful for Lynn Parker, of West Barnstable, who donated books and a glazed pot and scored a handmade bird bath. Someone also walked off with antique wood working tools.

But beyond the garden tool swap, the event served as the season opener for Meetinghouse Farm, which after years of organizing is transforming rapidly now from an abandoned landscaping business into a community garden site complete with a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse.

New 15-by-15 vegetable plots — 20 in all — have been cleared and are ready for those who want to grow food alongside other gardeners, said Judy Desrochers, president of Meetinghouse Farm Inc., a nonprofit contracted to run the farm.

And one plot is available in the Community Floral Quilt. The quilt — also new this year — will consist of 10, 15-by-15 plots of cutting flowers. Each square will have one or two colors producing vivid quilt-like effect on a background of green grass. So far the purple/blue, yellow, red and herb-growing squares are among those that have been spoken for, Desrochers said.

Meetinghouse Farm volunteers plan to sell the cut flowers to raise funds to continue rehabilitation of the 23-acre site.

The quilt will be visible from Route 149, Desrochers said.

Enough has been accomplished on the farm now for Desrochers to look back with a sigh of satisfaction. The town was convinced by local residents to buy Fred Conant's landscaping property — thereby saving it from development — for $1.7 million in 2000. A combination of Land Bank funds for open space and other donations secured the purchase.

But it wasn't until 2007 that Meetinghouse Farm Inc., a nonprofit made up of local board members, signed a management contract with the town. Their vision is a farm "to foster horticultural and agricultural values and practices in the community," according to their mission statement.

"I live in a condo complex and there's no place to garden," said Barbara Ryshavy, a board member from Marstons Mills. "It gives me a chance to dig and work in the soil. I walk my dog here. It's just beautiful."

The place is as good as any to admire the early spring. A walking trail winds past holly trees, fields soon to be alive with a butterfly garden and community plots.

Six years ago the Cape Cod Times described the grounds in late April as having "bare trees, brown grass and buildings in need of repair or replacement."

This year, even earlier in April, the grass is Easter-basket green, and tufts of color dot the trees. There are still buildings in need of repair, but volunteers have done a lot to improve them already.

Many master gardener talks and other events are planned, with the list available at the Meetinghouse Web site, Click on the Meetinghouse Farm link.


Meetinghouse Farm: the land responds to many hands

Volunteers are growing a showplace for Mother Nature

Written by Ellen Chahey 

COMING BACK TO LIFE - AmeriCorps volunteers built new benches for this old greenhouse, which had fallen into disrepair.

Twenty-three acres of town-owned land await your pleasure in West Barnstable. Twenty-three acres divided into outdoor rooms such as a holly grove with a new butterfly garden; vegetable plots for families and another that grows produce for the Noah Shelter; the biggest white birch trees you ever saw; and a hilly trail thickly planted with rhododendrons (which are expected to bloom at the end of May).

(Click here to See original Article in the Barnstable Patriot

Meetinghouse Farm, just steps away from West Parish on Route 149, used to be Conant Landscaping, said Judy Desrochers of West Barnstable, president of the seven-member board of directors of the non-profit Meetinghouse Farm, Inc., which has a 10-year management contract with the town that started in January 2007.
Desrochers wiped garden soil from her hands as she welcomed a visitor. She was preparing a plot for one of the community gardeners, who pay $20 to rent 15x15 feet of rich earth for a season.
“Take a ‘before’ shot, but just don’t forget to come back in August for an ‘after’,” she said with a smile.
One dream for the farm is to move the community vegetable garden to an interior field, and turn the plots that are visible from Route 149 into a flower garden. The vegetable plots have proven so popular that only two were left at press time.
Things could have turned out differently for the former Conant property after Fred Conant died in 1991. Desrochers said that a proposal to subdivide it and build 14 houses proved the “catalyst” for efforts to preserve its natural beauty. The town bought the property in 2000.
“It was a tired, tired property,” said Rob Gatewood, Barnstable’s conservation administrator. “Hats off to Judy Desrochers and to Meetinghouse Farm, Inc. for all of their hard work and their accomplishments. They really rolled up their sleeves. The future is real bright for their continued thriving.”
Since 2003, the volunteers of Meetinghouse Farm (no one is paid) have had “tremendous help,” said Desrochers, from AmeriCorps, the environmentally-oriented service organization. The Corps built new benches for the once-abandoned greenhouse; dug gardens; and have supported educational programs that the farm is beginning to offer.
Lumber and labor are beginning to come in from local builders, to repair an old barn and a little shed that’s destined to become an information booth. Dennis Casto of Casto Construction, a carpenter from Chatham, has offered to fix up the shed.
There’s room for many more volunteers, whether they’d like to work in the soil, on the buildings, or in fundraising. Desrochers said that some projects exceed what the town can contribute: “the barn needs a new roof.” Handicap access and restrooms will need funding, too.
One suggestion going around, Desrochers said, is to have the panes of the greenhouse engraved or painted in exchange for donations.
The farm is beginning to host some public events, including one tomorrow (May 16). From 9 a.m. to noon, the Barnstable County Beekeepers will sell perennial plants.
On June 27, the farm will host a sale of and a lecture about container gardens.
And on Aug. 15, in conjunction with the West Barnstable Village Festival, Meetinghouse Farm, Inc. will host its first* “Art at the Farm” fine art show and sale.
Desrochers, who said that environmental issues have always been near the top of her passions, emphasized that the farm’s priority is the fruits of the earth.
“The mission of the Farm,” says its official flyer, “is to foster horticultural and agricultural values and practices in the community.”
Peeking out from under a “Garden Walk” baseball cap that’s as blue as her eyes, Desrochers added, “People need skills to grow their own food.” Then she went back to turning over the earth.