The History and Evolution of the Burlington Area Community Garden Program
The Burlington Area Community Garden program (BACG) began as a passion project for Bryson “Tommy” Thompson in 1972 under the name of “Gardens for All”. He believed whole heartedly that everyone should have the opportunity to work the land and grow their own food. Thompson worked with the City of Burlington and other entities to create these spaces for people until his death in 1983. By the mid-1980’s, then Mayor Bernie Sanders understood the importance of and recognized the need for community gardening space and officially formalized the program by making it a part of the City of Burlington’s Parks and Recreation Department. From that moment on, it has continued to grow exponentially and has kept the spirit of Tommy Thompson’s efforts and dreams alive.
Today, BACG has 14 community garden sites throughout the Burlington area, the largest one being named after Tommy Thompson himself. No two garden sites are alike, making it easy for gardeners to find their niche depending on what their needs and wants are. Each garden site is unique in its location, size, general feel and community, which is what makes this program so special. With a total of about 800 individual garden plots, countless pollinator beds and many edible perennial spaces at each site, it is hard to ignore the vibrancy that this program brings to the City of Burlington. It is easy to see by the hard work and dedication to their individual plots and the shared communal spaces that gardeners value the opportunity to grow their own food and cultivate community with one another at the garden.
BACG continually strives to make gardening inclusive and accessible for all, which is why the program’s administrators have made a concerted effort to increase outreach to people from varying cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Under the leadership of Dan Cahill, the Land Steward of Burlington, and Meghan O’Daniel, the Community Garden Outreach Coordinator, the percentage of New American gardeners has significantly increased over the past five years. Actively creating space for these communities was a necessary step to take because they have been, and will continue to be, vital to the growth of the program as well as the Burlington community at large. Not only has this allowed for more diverse communities to be created surrounding the shared experience of gardening, but it has also given people from all around the world the familiar and comforting opportunity of connecting to the land. BACG also has a scholarship fund that covers up to half of the garden plot fee for any household that requests it.
Throughout BACG’s substantial growth over the past 47 years, volunteers have been at the heart of the seemingly never ending success of the program. Each site has a volunteer who oversees communication with the gardeners, day to day activities and special projects. They are a vital component to the program, without whom all progress would halt immediately. BACG also heavily relies on City Market Co-op Members to help with scheduled project work days, regular maintenance of pollinator spaces, event support and countless other tasks. BACG is also lucky enough to be on the receiving end of various organization’s volunteer days. These are high energy high impact moments in the season when a large project (or potentially projects) are tackled by over 100 people at once. The transformation is unreal and something you would need to see to believe. Between all of these different moving parts of volunteerism, BACG has been, and will continue to be able to propel forward, continuously increasing standards across the entire program.
Throughout its evolution, BACG has always had the same goal: provide accessible spaces for people to grow their own food in a safe and healthy way. The importance of this mission is only increasing as the world around us continues to shift and change. Connecting to the land around you and growing your own food gives you a chance to stay grounded and resilient in your own way. Whether gardening is a distraction from the hustle and bustle of everyday lift, a way to be more self-sufficient and have ownership over food production or creates a way to connect with nature, BACG plays a vital role in continuing to provide the space for folks to do so in and around Burlington.