In the heart of the Chappaqua hamlet, at a community garden edged with a row of blooming native plants, community members tend their little plots. This community garden on the Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps (CVAC) property is one of the original InterGenerate community gardens that does so much more than provide a space for neighbors to grow produce.
InterGenerate, a food justice non-profit was founded in 2009 by Rev. Peggy Clarke and Roseann Rutherford who recognized the need for families to have access to both sustainable food and sustainable communities. “Food security is even more precarious today than it was, but luckily more people are aware of our vulnerabilities,” says Rev. Clarke. “When we started, we had to explain what a community garden is and why it would benefit them. Today, the term ‘community garden’ is part of our national and local lexicon, and most people in Westchester have the option to join one, likely near their home.”
Suzi Novak, Vice President of InterGenerate is the Coordinator of Community Gardens and the Food Justice Programs. “Community gardens were our first project, but we always knew there would be giving gardens, and a portion of our food would be given away,” says Novak. Their philosophy was “garden together, we’ll get to know each other.”
InterGenerate began with four gardens: Chappaqua, and three others in Mount Kisco, a teaching garden and Chicken Co-op at the John Hay Homestead in Katonah and then Millwood. The only remaining are Chappaqua and Millwood. The Chicken Co-op is still in existence and operates separately.
Novak plans to retire from InterGenerate at the end of this growing season so the Chappaqua and Millwood gardens will become independent of InterGenerate. Members of the Chappaqua community garden plan to operate under the umbrella of a new not-for-profit being formed by current gardeners and led by Joan Basile, who has been with the Chappaqua garden since 2015. “The garden has thrived under Suzi Novak’s leadership for ten years,” says Basile. “This new not-for-profit will honor her efforts as the garden flourishes.”
While they no longer have the teaching garden in Katonah, gardeners of all ages are educated at the Chappaqua site. Basile runs a Kids Garden Club where the former school psychologist and teacher gives lessons on all aspects of the garden ecosystem and coaches them in garden activities. Basile also shares her knowledge with beginning gardeners, helping them learn how to grow vegetables following the “Seed to Supper” program that she was trained in at the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Basile says, “The model for donating produce has shifted a couple of times over the years as we experimented with how to achieve the best method for maximum donations.”
Four years ago, a more purposeful branch of InterGenerate began. They wanted to build a relationship with people and started a weekly Community Supported Agriculture program with Neighbors Link from mid-June through mid-October. Twenty families signed up the first year. “The idea was a subscription where each family pays $15 a month. “It was lovely, we got to know them, and then the pandemic hit. They asked us if we could now start feeding 50 families,” says Novak.
InterGenerate needed produce so Novak called the Westchester Land Trust and asked for more garden space. Two people associated with the Westchester Land Trust offered their private gardens and InterGenerate was able to feed the fifty families. “We delivered those two years,” says Novak. “It was a huge undertaking and we’re proud of what we did. Now we are back to the subscription model hoping to feed 25-30 families.”
Another source of produce for InterGenerate is the Town of New Castle funded garden at Wagon Road Camp in Chappaqua. In 2020 Pat Pollock, joined the town’s Council on Race and Equity and was assigned to the events team with two Greeley graduates, Dylan Marcus and Emily Nobel. The teens wanted to grow food for people who were food insecure. Gardening was not Pollock’s expertise, so she reached out to Suzi Novak for assistance. “Without hesitation, she joined us and taught us,” says Pollock. They teamed up with Vince Canziani at Wagon Road (a Children’s Aid facility in Chappaqua,) built twelve beds and recruited community members to help them. “As we prepare for our third year of distribution, we will again reach out to senior citizens and families in New Castle, as well as the families we distribute to in Mount Kisco,” says Pollock.
InterGenerate has left its mark on the concept of community gardens by creating a model for what they can be by reaching across traditional social boundaries, bringing people together to grow food locally and sharing the work while deepening ties to each other.
Novak reflects on her experience and the work of the community garden: “During the pandemic knowing that I was getting my hands dirty feeding people, it was the only thing that was sane in a world that was crazy. If you asked most of my volunteers, they would say the same thing. There is something so elemental about feeding people. It’s an honor to do it.”
Chappaqua Pollinator Garden
A glorious rainbow of native flowers and plants welcomes you to the Chappaqua InterGenerate Community Garden on the Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps property on North Greeley Avenue in Chappaqua. This pollinator habitat was started by Chappaqua community gardener, Joan Basile in 2021.
“I’ve wanted to build a pollinator strip on the grass outside the garden fence on the street side,” says Basile. “In addition to providing food and habitat for pollinators and other native critters, I wanted to create a demonstration garden to show home gardeners how to include native plants in a landscape while still enjoying favorite non-native annuals.”
Basile was helped by fellow community gardeners Lisa Johnson and Ajaib Hira. Hira dug out the space and cleared and terraced the back of the garden, where they have established a native shade garden which they will be dedicating to the Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Johnson helped plant the garden and tends it with Basile. A community member also donated peonies and a variety of bulbs including tulips, daffodils, and crocus to bloom in the spring.
They have been able to end the spraying of herbicides on the nearby grass to show how beautiful and pollinator friendly the white clover, dandelions, and creeping Charlie are when they bloom. They also provide food for insects in the spring when there are very few food sources available for native pollinators.
“I wanted to create a place of beauty and discovery for passers-by. Every day there is something new blooming, and we’ve become a neighborhood destination for many who come by on their daily walk,” says Basile. “I hope to eventually get permanent signage–a kids’ version and an adult version–to help explain what we’re doing at the garden and how it restores the land.”
Fun Fact FYI: The Town of New Castle is an affiliate of BEE City USA and encourages residents to create and enhance pollinator habitats.