Stop and smell the flowers

In a world now dominated by processed fast food and genetically modified foods, it seems rare in today’s society to come across individuals who are adamant about going through all of the work involved in cultivating and growing their own food gardens. Who has the time in this busy, over-stimulated life to stop and enjoy the calming benefits of growing what you eat?

In fact, there are many who do. And with spring now upon us, gardeners across the nation are beginning to go outside and work daily.

Not only are there the usual backyard gardens, but also community gardens – gardens that are maintained collectively by members of a community. The Old Lycoming Township Garden is one of these very community efforts, founded five years ago this spring.

What started back in 2008 as a simple idea to get underutilized land, well, used, has turned into something much more special.

The Old Lycoming Township Community Garden started as an idea by a young, enthusiastic couple, Rachelle (formerly Ricotta) and Justin Abbott, who just wanted a place to grow their own flora. They shared, and still do, a passion for self sufficiency – a rare trait by today’s standards. They were told by their landlord at their then-new apartment that they weren’t allowed to put in a garden for fear of “tearing up the land.”

The solution to that? Start a community garden on land that could be used by all, especially those with a passion for making the land look beautiful and full of life. So they did – after approaching township supervisors and the recreation committee, both of whom showed support for the idea to use the flood buyout land that could no longer support permanent structures, for a community garden.

Since the beginning, the location on Deckman Hollow Road, just off Lycoming Creek Road, has more than doubled. When the garden started, there were 10 plots available, but now, they have approximately 25 plots available for gardeners, in various sizes ranging from 10×10 feet to 15×30 feet. Essentially, the sizes depend on what type of plants the gardener is tending to, as well as their skills to upkeep an area, Rachelle Abbot said. Most of the gardeners focus on growing food, Rachelle said, but there also a variety of other plants in the garden.

With approximately 22 active members with their own plots, the garden is nearly at a capacity, although there are still some small plots left for newcomers.

“If you were to start from scratch at your own home, there are a lot of costs involved. We’re able to help offset some of those costs by having so many people available to help,” Justin Abbot said.

“Right now it’s [the garden] looking pretty miserable,” Abbot said, “but in about a month or so, it will look 100 percent different.”

The garden is located in a beautiful, quiet, mountainous area out in the country. Last year, resident Robert Minnier donated an apple tree to the garden. There are also picnic tables for the area provided by the township, making it a truly recreational area.

Janet Hall, the township’s supervisor, lives close to the garden. She has lived in the location for many years and has enjoyed seeing gardeners come together. Being a supervisor in the township, she has fully supported the efforts of all of the gardeners at the OLT community garden. Gardening has been a part of her life for more than 40 years, and was something most women did back in the day, she said.

“When I was a kid we had a garden, we all did back then,” Hall said, “it fills my heart to know that people are still interested in gardening.”

“Yeah, they could go to the store and buy tomatoes, but they’d rather grow them themselves,” Hall said, commending their dedication.

“There’s just something about putting a seed in the ground and seeing it sprout for yourself,” Hall said.

That there is. But gardening also does many other things, aside from the satisfaction of growing something yourself.

There has been research regarding gardening’s therapeutic effects and it’s ability to reduce stress.

A document was published in 2010 by Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands. The center conducted an experiment with participants to see if gardening reduced stress, and resulted in showing that participant’s moods were, in fact, more positive and showed that stress was alleviated after outdoors gardening.

Rachelle, Justin and Jose Miller, charter member, all agreed that gardening does have a very calming effect.

Additionally, they agreed that it’s simply exciting to see all of the different projects each gardener chooses.

“We enjoy it because it’s neat to see how people start every year and what directions they take; what they’re growing, what technique they’re using, the space they devote to certain plants,” Justin said.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, it helps bring a community together and facilitates lifelong friendships between a group that has a mutual interest in Mother Nature.

“The important thing is the socialization of gardeners coming together,” Rachelle said, “there’s such a variety of people, young and old; young people to Vietnam veterans, [all of whom] have a range of experience.”

Seeing the benefits of gardening is pretty obvious once one stops to actually think about it it’s a sensory overload; stepping away from a busy life and smelling the fresh air, letting the rays of sunlight illuminate and warm your hardworking hands and face, and growing with the very seeds that you plant from year to year.

And ultimately, tasting what you produced yourself.

One can only hope that something as good as a community garden will continue to grow for years to come.

If interested in gardening, of course you can start your own at home if space is available, but there is also the option seeking out a community garden. Or perhaps even suggesting to your local officials the idea of starting one.

To get in touch with Old Lycoming Township community garden, email