Until recently, Annie Leguennec had little experience in the garden.
Now, she is a regular at Bellevue Farms, where she is renting a garden plot for the first time. Annie regularly comes out to tend to her plants and crops which include carrots, radishes, kale, lettuce and beans for starters.
“It’s a nice community. We all share together, our knowledge… it’s awesome. I love it,” Annie said.
The coronavirus pandemic had job implications for Annie, and it left her with time on her hands.
“I always wanted to be part of a community garden,” Annie added. “I have a lot of time. I can come every day and check on my plot and plants, and learn. So, it’s the perfect time for me.”
Annie is not alone. Plots at Bellevue Farms behind the Bellevue Community Center on Duncan Road near Bellefonte are fully rented out this year – all 25 of them.
“What I have actually seen is that people are just really more interested in what’s happening in their community,” Bellevue Farms Director Elisa King said shortly before planting some peppers in another section of the garden. “I think because people are at home and they are in their space, they’re not as busy as they used to be. So, they find out what’s happening in their community.”
Andrew Geroski is in his second year of tending to a garden plot at Bellevue Farms. He said his parents, grandparents and great grandparents all had backyard gardens, but his yard had too much shade.
“I learned an appreciation for growing and finding your own food when I was young,” Andrew said. “You might say it was getting back to my roots and how I grew up. Putting time and effort into something and getting so much back is a good thing. It also is a great form of therapy.”
King also believes many people may have had a previous interest in gardening, but the desire to grow some of their own food or flowers really kicked in during the pandemic.
Whether it’s a simple backyard garden or a rented space, Americans have a long history of taking to tilling the soil during challenging times. Delaware Center for Horticulture Executive Director Vikram Krishnamurthy said there are some similarities to the “victory gardens” that sprouted during World War II. Before the days of big agriculture, about 40 percent of the nation’s produce was grown locally to boost the local food supply.
Nowadays, Krishnamurthy believes the current garden movement may be more about self-sufficiency. Food pantries in Delaware have been drawing long lines since mid-March.
“We know that there’s a higher demand for food support. Food security and access to fresh fruits and vegetables is certainly an issue. Even though the supply seems to be okay for now, it’s a different matter to actually get it into peoples’ hands,” Krishnamurthy said.
The benefits of gardening are many, according to Krishnamurthy. They go beyond being able to stock the produce drawer in the refrigerator.
According to Krishnamurthy, research has consistently shown that “the simple act of gardening has a positive effect not only on your physical wellness but your mental and emotional wellness as well.”
“You’re getting things done so you’re productive, but there’s a certain mindfulness that can come with it, moments of mindfulness and meditation as you’re connecting with nature but also a way to kind of connect with your inner self,” Krishnamurthy added.
The DCH has always tried to encourage tree-planting and urban forestry initiatives as well as being a resource for community and individual gardeners. Krishnamurthy added that many of those resources are now available virtually, due to the center being closed to the public.
If you are thinking about getting into gardening, Krishnamurthy said there is still time for this season. The DCH advises first-timers to start out small. Container gardens can produce herbs relatively quickly as well as small vegetables. Krishnamurthy said broccoli, spinach, lettuces and kale may provide the novice gardener with some early wins and a boost of confidence.
According to Andrew, the pandemic reaffirmed his enjoyment of gardening and growing things. He is looking forward to a harvest of tomatoes, peppers, Kirby cucumbers, summer yellow squash, string beans and zucchini.
“It did make it feel what I was doing was even more important and I appreciated it in a new way. Everything became a little more special: picking the right soil, the right things to plant. I pot more love into it this year than last,” Andrew said. “It also made me more connected to other backyard and communal gardeners. It’s also cool to talk to other gardeners when I’m tending to my plot. It can be a social thing as well as an escape.”
Bellevue Farms, meanwhile, is gearing up for the weekly Bellefonte Farmer’s Market which will be held each Friday starting in June under the guidance of New Castle County. More produce is being grown in its production area to support its food box delivery program.
Boxes of bees buzz near the berries. At the entrance to Bellevue Farms, a new “seed library,” similar to small book libraries on posts you may have seen, is available for visitors who want to bring some seeds home to plant.
King is grateful that Bellevue Farms has been able to serve as a resource during such a challenging time.
“I think that getting out into spaces like this is very therapeutic,” King said. “It’s having that connection to the outside world, and not feeling so isolated is really important for people’ mental health.”
“That’s the point of it being an open public space for people, so that they can come out here, enjoy what is growing and just have a quiet mind and not feel so overwhelmed by all of the things going on in the world right now.”