Urban Growth

Do you eat vegetables? If so, do you grow vegetables? If not, why not?

Not enough time, not enough land, don’t have a rototiller, water is too expensive, don’t know what to plant or how to plant it; maybe you’ve been to the big box store and seen 35 kinds of fertilized soil products, and don’t even know what kind of dirt to grow your garden in! Not only have we heard all those excuses before, we’ve used them.

Mill Hollow Works exists to help people reconnect their needs with local raw materials – but you don’t have to start with chopping down trees to build your own timberframe house. Of all the things you buy on a weekly basis, there is nothing as easy or rewarding to make for yourself than vegetables.

Dirt is below your feet, water falls from the sky and every plant seed has a little onboard computer pre-programmed with everything that plant needs to know to grow and produce fruit. Big, fenced gardens are beautiful and someone wanting to spend a fortune on gardening can do so – but these aren’t necessities.

Behind the Hannah Grimes Center on Roxbury Street in Keene is a parking garage and a walkway that hundreds of people use every day. Between the sidewalk and the building is a forlorn strip of dirt, four feet wide. People have tried to landscape it before, but it gets walked on. It is a handy place to throw your cigarette butt or coffee cup.

In that little area, we are going to make a demonstration, teaching, learning, sharing raised-bed garden. We are going to show how much can be made with so little. We are going to show how an individual living in a third-floor apartment with a four-foot-square landing can grow some of what they eat.

We will suggest that a family with no yard could grow most of their vegetables for two, three, or even four months of their year with a box on the pavement along the edge of their driveway. We hope this series will inspire city-wide partnerships between the community and small businesses to turn these small dirt plots, unused or decoratively landscaped, into vegetable gardens. What’s more beautiful than a big ripe tomato or a bright squash flower?

This is not a big community garden, because having access to one of those is itself a privilege. We are teaching urban gardening – a stealth garden – something that should pop up everywhere in back alleys, on rooftops, and in driveways. This is legal guerrilla gardening – and an edible art installation.

Our garden is your garden; it won’t be fenced-off, and when you walk by and see a ripe tomato or some beans, you are welcome to help yourself. We hope this will show that, while we will build boxes, fill them with dirt and plant seeds, it is the plants themselves that are being generous, giving back what is given to them.

Students will have the opportunity to learn, from soil preparation to harvest, how to maximize their vegetable production while naturally reducing garden pests. The specific plants going into the garden will be selected for their continuous yield; in other words, vegetables that need to be picked in order to keep producing throughout the growing season.

Even if our garden and the gardens that are borne from it are humble, part of Mill Hollow Works’ mission is to bring the best instructors available anywhere. For this series of classes, we have local gardening celebrity, Celeste Longacre. There is no one-word description of what Celeste is or does.

She has been growing her family’s vegetables for more than 35 years; she preserves the garden’s bounty by canning, freezing, drying and fermenting, as well as storing her produce in a root cellar. She and her husband, Bob, live sustainably in a handmade octagonal home – and they had the first solar panel installation done by Hannah Grimes neighbor, Green Energy Options

Mill Hollow Works was launched in 2017 by husband and wife team, Wade Smith and Heather Holloway. Named for the small area close to where Holloway grew up in East Alstead, it suggests the combination of artistry, industry and capability of the 19th-century New England millwright, carpenter, machinist and farmer.

Art not for its own sake, but for a tangible purpose; industry not of mindlessness, but of creativity and brilliant hard work. Trades that melded into one another, because life once demanded proficiency in many skills, not just the one you did 40 hours a week for your paycheck.

Mill Hollow Works offer trade courses in the areas of boatbuilding, woodworking, homesteading and wildcraft. Students interested in participating in the Mill Hollow Works Gardening Series can register online at millhollowworks.org.  All ages welcome.

Upcoming Gardening Series Classes:

May 19th,  Planting Frost Sensitive Crops (weather permitting)

June 2nd, Plant Care

July 21st, Freezing Veggies and Berries

August 25th, Making and Canning Spaghetti Sauce

September 22nd, Getting the Garden and Larder Winter Ready


*This article was featured in Keene Sentinel’s ELF Magazine, April 19th Edition.