Community Garden Grows With Union Help

Gianna Volpe
Sheet metal workers from NYC paired up with local gardeners to rebuild Riverhead’s Rivers and Roots community garden over the weekend. Independent/Gianna Volpe
Independent/Gianna Volpe

Union workers from New York City headed east over the weekend of March 30 and 31 to aid local gardeners in rebuilding the beds at the River and Roots Community Garden on Main Street in Riverhead. The well-loved community garden, which boasts 34 beds — 14 of which are double-high to accommodate gardeners with physical limitations — uses the $25 it charges per bed per season to cover its insurance each year and has needed to rely on other organizations to continue its growth.

“We’re so fortunate because it’s town-owned land,” co-founder and head gardener, Amy Davidson, said of the small plot south of Griffing Avenue, which is rented to River and Roots by Riverhead Town for free each year. “Everything you see here has been donated.”

Community donations — as well as labor provided through a Sheriff’s Department vocational training program for inmates — got the garden growing nine years ago with a fence that followed from a Cornell Cooperative Extension grant, but years later, the wood around the beds has begun to decompose. “They’re clearly rotting and falling apart, but the only amount of money the garden takes in is what we charge for the beds and we need that to cover our insurance,” said Laurie Nigro, who founded the garden alongside Davidson and their husbands, Brian Nigro and Dan Kulp.

“My husband is in sheet metal workers’ Local 28, and they decided that they wanted to come in and donate all of the supplies, including wood from Riverhead Building Supply, and labor, so a bunch of the guys you see here today are from Local 28,” Nigro continued. “Their jurisdiction is all of New York City and Long Island — so they have jurisdiction here as well. They sent laborers and paid for all of this.”

Brian Nigro, whose solicitation of Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation’s Local 28 resulted in the $3000 donation, appeared in his glory as he helped erect new beds beside both union and gardening brethren. “It’s a blending of two of my passions: this garden and my union,” said the man who first dug into the dirt alongside Amy Davidson nearly a decade ago.

“I like to grow things that annoy people,” Nigro joked. “Jerusalem artichokes are a native plant that are very, very invasive and I decided one day that we should grow Jerusalem artichokes in the garden. They grow about 18 feet tall. And ground cherries. I decided to plant ground cherries one year. It’s a delicious, fantastic fruit, but once it’s in your bed, you never get rid of it because once you plant it, the fruit falls to the ground and comes back again the next year, so everyone likes to make fun of me because I plant annoying plants.”

While Davidson had an eye-roll response to being asked how much she likes Jerusalem artichokes, the camaraderie between she and the others involved at River and Roots is more than evident. “We have fun and we do potlucks,” Davidson said with a smile.

There are currently three beds open at the community garden this season and interested can email [email protected], call 631-384-6764, and visit its Facebook page at Rivers and Roots Community Garden.

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