Here’s a story of a threatened community garden, by Guest Ranter Kathleen Kiley:

A notice of an “inside threat” was sent out to the members of the Westport Community Gardens in mid-June. The infamous Spotted Lanternfly was attacking the grape vines draped over the arbor in the common space, a relaxing and shaded area to take a break from the sun.

But this invasive insect that can “causes serious damage,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, was no match for the emerging outside threat happening beyond the gardens located in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Shortly after the more than 100 gardeners were notified to be on the watch for the Spotted Lanternfly, another alarm was issued.


The 20-year-old community gardens, recently referred to as a “town jewel” by Dan Woog, writer, journalist, and influential voice 06880 blogger, was in danger of being replaced by a ball field.

The town is considering plans that could possibly replace the gardens and the newly created Long Lots Preserve – a project that replaced invasive plants with mature oak trees and native plants – with a ball field, as part of the overall plans for a new school. There are other plans being considered, including renovating the 70-year-old school. But this latter option, given how the town dispersed the details, like seeds scattered along the wind, has left the gardeners and their supporters less confident the “town jewel” will remain intact.

As a concession to the possible loss of this expansive swatch of sustainable growing land, the town would give the gardeners even more land to start over and maybe an even better bocce court. As any gardener or soil scientist will tell you, it’s all about the health of the soil, and that takes time to build into a rich, biodiverse ecosystem for all living things, including insects, fungi, birds, and of course, bees.

Louis Weinberg, chairman of the Westport Community Gardens,

“Transforming the rough land into a viable community garden was a hard row to hoe. That’s no exaggeration: The ground was as forgiving as concrete,” said Louis Weinberg, chairman of the Westport Community Gardens, to Woog in a recent Connecticut Post article, “Woog’s World: Community gardens a town jewel to be preserved”

So it was with good reason, on a hot and humid Saturday in June, that a “war room” of sorts quickly came together to fend off the loaming threat. More than 70 gardeners from the Westport Community Gardens assembled to address the possibility of losing their gardens to a ball field. Its leader assigned tasks and committees were formed, from publicity to educational outreach. It seemed like it could be a daunting task: A classic David vs. Goliath story or in this case, the humble bee against the insatiable demand for ball fields.

But Westport is progressive, seemingly. A 2019 New York Times story, “A Historic Town With a Global Mind-Set,” wrote about how plastic bags have been banned in the town since 2009 and that Styrofoam used in the food-service businesses was next on the list.

“Any other town in America, would celebrate, promote, and protect what we have created here,” said Weinberg in an interview. “What’s wrong with this picture; what is wrong with Westport’s leadership?”

Across the state and around the country, efforts are being made to incorporate nature and gardens into school curriculums in public and private schools. Private schools such as the Slate School (Upper and Lower) in Essex, Connecticut and Greens Farms Academy in Westport, have incorporated nature lessons into their classrooms. And the town of Hamden, about 40 minutes north of Westport, which has a median household income of nearly $81,000, is installing community gardens at five elementary schools,“ aiming to raise awareness of food resources and get teachers and students active in the gardening process,” according to a CT Post article.

In Berkeley, California, the Edible Schoolyard Project, a nonprofit organization, uses “organic school gardens, kitchens, and cafeterias to teach academic subjects and the values of nourishment, stewardship, and community.”

As the weeks have passed, Weinberg and the gardeners have raised considerable support, including a petition with over 1,900 signatures and counting and a growing list of businesses and nonprofits supporting Westport Community Gardens, including Food Rescue US – Fairfield County, Connecticut Audubon, regional retailers Terrain and Stop & Shop, Chef Michel Nischan and the Wholesome Wave Foundation, and Save Westport Now, to name a few.

A recent letter written by Ian Warburg Co-chair, Save Westport Now, founded in 1980 and dedicated to preserving Westport’s small-town New England appeal, as well as preserving open space, offered some salient points to town officials (the full letter can be read in Woog’s 06880):

  •   “We note that removing these Gardens and the Preserve in favor of other uses runs counter to the Town’s Net Zero promise, as well as its most recent Plan of Conservation and Development, which explicitly calls for the preservation and enhancement of open space.
  •   In fact, the town has long been concerned with this issue since Westport has very little open space, especially compared to other towns in Fairfield County. If anything, we need to be creating more gardens, preserves, and open space — not less.
  •   It took 20 years and almost 10,000 hours of volunteer labor to get the Gardens and Preserve to this point. They cannot be rebuilt overnight or easily replicated.
  • The fact is that the Gardens and Preserve play a critical role in helping to sequester carbon and protect our pollinators.”

While a similar type of a “debacle,” a word Warburg used in his letter, are likely being played out around the country, perhaps this story will offer hope for towns and cities that want to protect our finite resources.

A recommendation from the building committing to the town on how to proceed is expected at the end of August. With any bit of luck that perseverance brings, the Westport Community Gardens could be saved. Getting back to gardening and being vigilant against an “inside threat” such as the Spotted Lanternfly, could be a welcome relief – at least for the moment.

Images courtesy of Westport Community Gardens.