Paul Ciara prunes tomato plants in the Nahant Community Garden. His impending retirement brings the fate on the garden into question. (Item photo by Owen O’Rourke)
By Bridget Turcotte
NAHANT — Paul Ciara will retire from his post at the community garden at the end of the season.
“I’m preparing these beds for whatever happens next year,” he said. “I’m spreading leaves and grass. I’ll (turn) it under the soil so it can decompose and we’ll have nutrition for next season, whatever they decide to do with it.”
Ciara has worked as a part-time employee for the Department of Public Works for six years, maintaining the garden. In addition to his 20 paid hours, he has volunteered a minimum of 30 extra hours each week.
He transformed an area of overgrown bushes behind the Johnson Elementary School into five or six raised garden beds in 2010. Today, there are about 60 beds, enclosed in a post-and-rail fence.
This year, with the help of a few volunteers, he harvested 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of vegetables, which were sold to residents for $1 per pound.
Ciara said he’s concerned about what will happen to the garden and whether neighbors will lose the benefits of the market.
“Residents are accustomed to having fresh, organic vegetables available to them,” he said.
Roughly three dozen people visit the garden on a typical Saturday afternoon to pick from tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, peppers, kale and chard grown in their own town.
Ciara has already ordered seeds for next year, which will begin the germination process in the basement of Town Hall.
“Every plant I’ve grown from the seed,” he said. “It’s personal. I’ve nurtured it along. I enjoy it. I would like to see something similar continue for the townspeople.”
But the fate of the garden has not been decided, according to the Town Administrator’s office. The Board of Selectmen, School Committee, and administrator’s office will each play a part in reaching a decision.
Kevin Andrews, principal of the Johnson Elementary School, said a portion of about 1,000 square feet will be used by students during school hours. Teachers will incorporate it into their lessons.
“Different grade levels will have different projects based on their curriculum,” Andrews said.
Students will learn growing techniques but will also take time dissecting flowers and learning the anatomy of various plants and flowers, he said.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” Andrews said. “It’s really exciting. Every school I’ve been at, I’ve started a gardening program.”
Ciara said there are options for what could happen with the remaining 6,000 square feet, including hiring a replacement for the job or dividing the beds among interested residents to maintain. But, he added the decision should include input from the community. He has requested a part-time summer position with the DPW and could lend a hand with garden operations next year, he said.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte