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Community Gardens Grow in Size and Spirit

Community gardeners gathered Saturday to thank those who helped their venture expand and celebrate new growth.

Cris Singer has been a community gardener in Westport since 1971 when the plots were located on Wakeman Farm. 

Now, 39 years later and in a new location off Hyde Lane, she's staked claim of the first plot at the Westport Community Gardens, which she has been cultivating for the past five years. 

This year, the community gardens were granted permission to double in size and the site has grown to more than 60 plots and about 85 gardeners plus their families.

The expansion was a controversial subject in Westport as the gardens are located next to Long Lots Elementary School, which worried some of the school children's parents.

But after several contentious hearings and a lot of work to prepare the land for additional plots and eager gardeners, the Westport Community Gardens group celebrated its expansion Saturday with an "Open Garden" day.

Singer, one of about 25 people who celebrated the expansion, said she has enjoyed seeing the garden grow both in crops and flowers and in community spirit.

"The old one was big and spread out and nobody cared," she said of the previous garden site. "And now, everybody cares."

Fellow gardener Leo Cirino agreed.

"I've been a gardener all my life," Cirino said, adding that he enjoys the friendliness of the gardeners and the sharing of tomatoes and other produce.

"It's a great, green Westport community," he said. "And, this shares a lot of community spirit."

The gardens are not only a place for the community, but a place built by the community.

Lou Weinberg, chairman of Westport Community Gardens who helped the site become what it is today, told the crowd that had gathered Saturday about all the people who helped the garden grow.

From local officials who hosted the hearings for the gardens expansion to the Green Villiage Initiative that contributed money to purchase a fence to the Belta family who donated compost, the Gilberties who donated plants, the Gault family who donated sand, the Izzos and stores like Anthropologie who donated funds to the gardeners' cause.

"I wanted to have this day to celebrate this place," Weinberg said. "There are ages 3 to 83 and everything in between here. It's an oasis, a place of refuge and we are very lucky and grateful to be here."

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who was one of the many local officials Weinberg thanked, said "it's frustrating to get things done in Westport" and he's "glad to see something finally done that is environmentally friendly."

"Westport is greening and blooming and it's so gratifying to see this," he said as he munched on a cherry tomato from Cirino's garden.

Whether lifelong gardeners or families who are trying to grow a garden for the first time, all said they enjoy the community togetherness and the opportunity to grow food to feed their families.

William DeRocco, 7, who gardens with his sister Isabella, 11,  and mom Lori, said he first became interested in gardening when he started to grow a pumpkin at school. Now his pumpkins are growing beyond the raised bed they sit in and William said he loves to see how the plants change daily.

"I like to watch them grow," he said. "I might want to grow all the pumpkins and then I'll give everyone one, even my dog."

The DeRoccos said they enjoy coming to the garden to visit with their friends and meet new people.

Singer agrees and said she's pleased when she comes to the garden whether it's by herself or to meet fellow gardeners.

"It's fun because you know you have something so in common with these people before they even show up," she said. "It's nice to meet new people you know you share something with, but I also like the peace and quiet when it's just me and the birds."

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