Trackside garden provides ‘wholesome’ outlet for learning

Kendra Baker photos
The Neighborhood Garden at Trackside Teen Center was bustling the afternoon of Monday, July 10, with members of Trackside’s Green Teens gardening program and visitors maintaining, harvesting, picking, trellising and watering fruits, herbs, and vegetables.

Trackside’s Green Teens program for fifth through eighth graders has around 20 members who work in the garden when they can in the spring and summer.

Coordinated by Wilton Garden Club members Laurie Musilli and Pam Nobumoto, the program is designed to get young people involved with creating and maintaining vegetable gardens, teach them about the importance of healthy foods, and give back to the community.

Produce grown in the garden — including basil, cucumbers, eggplant, tarragon, strawberries, peppers, and various types of tomatoes and lettuce — is donated to the Wilton Interfaith Food Pantry at Comstock Community Center.

In addition to donating produce to the pantry, Green Teens members also cut and make fresh flower arrangements for the Wilton Senior Center.

Visitors to the garden on July 10 included Wilton Garden Club President Suzanne Knutson, Garden Club members Sherry Johnson and Nan Merolla, Trackside Executive Director Mark Ketley, and Board of Finance members Jeff Rutishauser and Richard Creeth.

Musilli said the finance board members came for “a tour of the garden” after her son wrote the board an email about “how critical Trackside is to the success of the Green Teens program to teach children.”

“The board has announced cuts to the funding they provide to Trackside,” she said, “and the children wanted them to come see what they do at the garden to hopefully help change their mind.”

Girl Scout Karina Olsen originally built Trackside’s Neighborhood Garden in 2011. It has since expanded and improved with the help of Boys Scouts. Today, the garden is used not only by Trackside’s Green Teens, but others in the community as well.

“It’s a community garden here at Trackside, and we want to bring kids here and know that this is a place they can go,” said Musilli.

“I’ve had a Brownie Girl Scout troop contact me because they wanted to do a gardening merit badge. I had someone call me from Our Lady of Fatima [whose] child was looking for community service hours,” she said. “There’s so much that can happen here.”

Musilli said a lot of children “want something else to do other than sports,” and the Neighborhood Garden provides them with a “wholesome, good” alternative.

In addition to working in the garden, Green Teens students also learn ways to use the produce they grow.

“We’ve had someone come from The Well [at 33 Danbury Road] to talk about juicing, the properties of organic foods and about what we can do with the vegetables we grow here. We even had a high school culinary teacher come make fresh salsa and … teach them how to make it in the kitchen here [at Trackside],” said Musilli.

“There’s just so much they can learn and get out of being here besides how to plant.”

With deer making it hard to grow produce at one’s home, Johnson added, the Neighborhood Garden provides “a great outlet for someone who really wants to garden.”

Without Trackside and its garden, Musilli said, “I don’t know where we’d do all this.”