It takes a village to water a community garden, as solar pumps turn on in Concord

Watering the 168 plots at the Sycamore Community Garden has gotten easier thanks to a new solar-powered pumping system.

“We’re happy to see it – yay!” said Alice Nyazahabu, one of scores of gardeners who showed up Thursday to get seedlings for this year’s crop and to learn about the new system.

Nyazahabu, who came to the United States from the Congo seven years ago, has two plots in the garden and formerly had to haul buckets of water hundreds of yards. Now the trip is less than 50 feet.

When the community garden opened in 2009 on the NHTI campus, people growing vegetables and plants would carry water from nearby Fort Eddy pond in buckets. In 2015 a pair of wells were dug on the property but gardeners still had to carry water from the spigots to their individual plots throughout the 2-acre garden.

“When COVID began the conversation started: How do we get water to people so they don’t have to handle buckets as much?” said Dr. Whitney Howarth of Plymouth State University, a member of the garden’s board of directors.

“For two years we’ve been thinking about making it happen,” said garden manager Kaylin Lustig. “Over the years it has been a big request. We have noticed people using the wheelbarrow (to carry water buckets), which is kind of rough on the wheelbarrow!”

The result, thanks to a lot of donations and work by volunteers, is a system that was turned on a week ago and formally opened Thursday. It features a pump powered by eight 100-watt solar panels that pulls water from the wells and sends it through 800 feet of buried irrigation pipe to eight tanks throughout the garden. Now no plot is more than 50 feet from water.

The watering system is the la test upgrade to a volunteer institution that has grown community spirit as well as food. More than 100 gardeners tend the 13-by-26-foot plots, most of whom speak Nepali, although many are from various countries in central and eastern Africa. All Concord residents are welcome to apply.

“No one is turned away,” said Howarth. “This is about bringing people together and building connections.”

“It’s not just a place to garden but … it’s a beautiful place to gather. A lot of people live in really small apartments so it’s not easy to gather. But here it’s the feeling of being in nature,” said Lustig. “People have not just gratitude that you can grow your own food but also that feeling of community.”

At Thursday’s celebration, gardeners received seedlings of vegetables like eggplant, tomato and okra for this year’s plantings, many of which had been grown by local gardeners and schools.

The garden is at NHTI’s campus on Fort Eddy Road, just across from the boat launch and near the soccer fields.  For more information, see https://www.sycamorecommunitygarden.org.

Concord has a second community garden, Birch Street Community Garden, on Route 13 opposite the White Farm.