written by Sarah Parsons West

St. Albans – Insulated beneath the snow at Houghton Park, a guild of fruit bushes and rhubarb plants lie dormant, awaiting their first spring thaw. Cultivated last season, the fruit-based garden serves as a pilot project promoting edible landscapes throughout the community. The Houghton Park Guild, located on the Elm Street side of the park, welcomes all visitors to harvest what they might need. Initiated by the ‘Foodscapers,’ a committee of like-minded individuals, the Guild demonstrates collaborative enhancements to an existent green space, ultimately increasing food security within the local community.

“By making fresh and healthy options more easily available, we hope people will choose those,” says Destiny Cadieux, RN, Public Health Nursing Supervisor with the Vermont Department of Health, and a Foodscapers founding member. While each Foodscaper brings unique interest and expertise to the committee, they agree that addressing social determinants of health, especially food insecurity, are key motivation.

More than ten percent of all Vermonters live in food-insecure households, meaning that they do not have regular access to nutritious foods, with St. Albans’ food insecurity hovering around 18%. According to Hunger Free Vermont, children living in these homes are at greater risk, due to nutritional deficiencies and developmental delays. “The issue of food insecurity is currently a pressing conversation to be having, not a new one,” says Cadieux. She says one mission of the Guild is to better equalize the community, to bring the haves and have-nots together on the same level, through equal access to food.

The Foodscapers believe the Guild site is sustainable, with additional signage needed to clearly explain the plantings. The Foodscapers wanted plants that would continue to bear produce over time, choosing fruit trees, bushes and herbs over vegetables, most of which are not perennial in Vermont’s climate. Nearly two years of planning passed from conception to reality of the Guild; with site proposals and the procurement of funds and materials taking time.

Foodscaper Jacob Holzberg-Pill, an Outdoor Technology Instructor for NWTC/BFA, provided content expertise, utilizing his classroom to bring students into the garden. “The students designed the structure of the guild and did the planting, creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the Guild, the students and the school,” says Cadieux. Ties with the St. Albans Rotary and Rotary Interact (a youth service club), were made through Rotarian-Foodscapers Karyn Rocheleau and Trisha Woodward. Funding for the Guild project was given in part by the St. Albans Rotary, and through an Amplify Grant, awarded by RiseVT. The annual RiseVT Amplify grants continue to provide funding for community projects that help make the healthy choice, the easy choice. Aims to reduce obesity and increase access to healthy foods made the Foodscapers’ Guild project a good match. “The RiseVT amplify grant also made it possible for the Rotary to invest in fruit trees, bushes and plants for the Berkshire and Swanton Elementary Schools,” says Karyn Rocheleau. “We also landed a few blueberry bushes at NMC.  It was exciting to be able to help other communities.”

The Foodscapers agree their work requires long-term vision. “As more sites become available across our city, whether that’s based upon grants or by residents offering access to their own produce,” says Cadieux, “now is the time for thinking and conceptualizing about possible projects and partners.” The goal is for families from all backgrounds to continue to access food at the Houghton Park Guild, demonstrating community readiness for additional landscaping with edibles. The committee hopes that more community members will help identify beneficial locations to plant edibles, to begin thinking about ways they can contribute and participate in their own towns.

“We want to see multiple locations across the city and county that have edibles readily available for all,” Cadieux says. That plan includes the creation of a ‘Walking Map,’ highlighting the edible projects across the city that residents or visitors could take advantage of. Whether it’s peppers for dinner or strawberries for a salad, people would know where they could go to get them, at no cost. “These edible landscaping projects are not designed to target any one specific population,” reminds Cadieux. We want to help foster wellness; to normalize the access to food across all communities.”   —                                                                   

 Foodscapers Committee Members, past and present:
Destiny Cadieux; Heath McAllister; Jacob Holzberg-Pill; Trisha Woodward; Karyn Rocheleau; Betsy Fournier; Anne Levy; Gillian Marchessault and Joshua Lareau