A community greenhouse grows in Chester

Gears and other pieces from a Walpole, N.H., greenhouse are stowed in a barn in Chester in early July. All photos by Cynthia Prairie

By Cynthia Prairie
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A group in Chester is working to establish a community greenhouse that will allow residents to extend the season to grow plants, vegetables and flowers almost all year long.

Their vision is of a community greenhouse and gardens that include educational opportunities while addressing climate change, food insecurity and community strength as well as economic development.

Robert Nied talks about creating a community greenhouse to Chester.

The idea was first brought to the town by Robert Nied, who moved to Chester from upstate New York three years ago to work for the town of Londonderry. He has a background in community and rural preservation. “This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” Nied said. “Having a greenhouse changed my way of thinking … it extended my season and I could grow things I couldn’t grow before, like eggplant,” said the longtime northeastern grower.

In an interview on Thursday, Nied said that he had gone by the Putney Community Garden and thought “why not a community greenhouse?” The idea continued to percolate until one day this past spring he jumped on a weekly Zoom program called Victory Gardening in the 21st Century that Chester residents Melody Reed and Cheryl Joy Lipton host. “They seemed enthusiastic and we started talking to the community.”

Now both Reed, an artist, and Lipton, a landscape designer, sit on the Chester Community Garden board, with Lipton acting as its president. Also on the board are Tim Roper and Luna Burkland, a Green Mountain High student. Both Roper and Lipton also serve on the Chester Planning Commission and Nied is the chair of the Whiting Library Board of Trustees.

An article about the greenhouse in the 2016 Walpole Clarion begins on Page 12.

A surprising gift

The group found themselves moving faster on the project than expected when an antique greenhouse basically fell into their lap. Deconstruction Works, which has disassembled buildings in Chester, was dismantling a huge galvanized steel and iron greenhouse in Walpole, N.H. If they wanted it, all they had to do is pay for delivery and find a storage site. “We had a deadline and had to give the people who were taking it down an answer in two weeks,” Nied said.

Luckily, by then, the project had gained the support of Chester Select Board chair Arne Jonynas and vice chair Heather Chase.  Jonynas offered manpower in offloading the parts and Chase offered her barn for their storage.

Soon, on a warm, rainy late July day, volunteers found themselves unloading the parts into Chase’s barn.

“The frame’s in great shape,” Nied said of the 100 by 32 foot, 1930s Lord & Burnham greenhouse, whose blueprints they hope to secure soon from the New York Botanical Gardens.

Photo in the Walpole Clarion courtesy Dale Woodward.

When finished, the greenhouse will be ADA compliant — “at least a portion” to accommodate those with physical challenges. “We might be able to give an older former gardener a chance to garden again as well as do something with the schools.”

In the meantime, the board continues to push the project in other necessary directions. They have applied for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status which would make donations tax deductible, they have secured some donations and micro-grants, including $1,000 from an “enthusiastic” Windham Foundation and determined other grant sources. The group has also created their motto — Helping the Community Grow  — and set up both a Facebook page and a website. 

Arne Jonynas, left, and Robert Nied unload greenhouse parts in July.

The work ahead

Besides getting the word out to the greater community about the project, two major challenges remain: Money and finding land. Currently Nied puts the “rough ballpark” cost of erecting the greenhouse on a brand new foundation and retrofitting it with energy efficient glazing at $150,000 to $175,000. But first, they hope to raise seed money for a study to determine the actual costs.

Still, the biggest challenge is land. Several prospects didn’t pan out. They are looking at both public and private land but expect that private land is the more reasonable option. “Putting it near The Green would be great, within walking distance,” Nied said. And they would like 3 acres to not only accommodate the greenhouse but outdoor garden plots as well, and access to public water would be great.

A crank from the greenhouse.

So they continue to look, with one request: “We want the community to tell us where they would like it to be located, ” said Nied.

And they hope to have the greenhouse in operation “in a year or two,” said Nied.

Donations can be made by clicking here or by sending a check to Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens, P.O. Box 1271, Chester, VT 05143.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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