Behind the historic Plummer building on Winter Island – nestled between the basketball court and the ocean – is a beautiful, thriving organic garden. For three seasons of each year, this garden supplies much of the produce for the meals prepared by residential staff for the youth in our care. But as any gardener knows, gardens do not maintain themselves.
Volunteer Amanda Lilly has been the Plummer Garden Club coordinator for close to a decade. When she first got involved, the garden was in a transitional period and several longtime volunteers were moving on from the project. Amanda saw an opportunity to take the garden in a new direction.
Though the garden was always well-maintained by various volunteer groups over the years, Amanda saw the potential for more. She wanted to create an interactive and enriching experience for the young people who lived at the Winter Island residential program.
Her plan centered on a monthly community Harvest Feast, in which volunteers and residents would harvest the garden, cook, and eat a family-style meal together. The youth would not only learn gardening skills, but also learn about sustainability, nutrition, and collaboration.
Renovating and reimagining the garden required a tremendous amount of work. Volunteers covered half of the garden area with a giant tarp and began reestablishing the plots row by row. Amanda coordinated the project and interacted with the youth. Amanda’s partner, Jen, took on much of the labor, with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers.
Plummer clients from the OnPoint program, along with several garden volunteers and a few Plummer residents, helped install a new fence to replace a rusted, dilapidated one. By the fourth year, Amanda and her team had installed an irrigation system. The garden was thriving, and the young people loved being a part of it.
Amanda’s favorite story is one that happened several years ago. A young Plummer resident who had trouble controlling his anger and emotions was acting out. Residential staff sent him out to the garden for an hour to cool down. It was the first time Amanda had met this young man and, at first, he was not happy to be there.
Amanda invited him to help pick through a batch of basil that was on the verge of wilting. Initially, he was agitated, ripping off the leaves angrily and loudly. But as he picked the leaves, he became steadily calmer, until he said, “This smells amazing! What is it?” He and Amanda started talking about food, cooking, and all the different ways to use basil. When his hour was up, he wanted to stay and finish the job. He became a garden regular and often came outside when he needed to feel centered.
A SECOND HOME
Amanda is grateful for her time at Plummer – and it has been a lot of time. Over the years, she has spent thousands of hours in the garden. Much of that time has been spent enjoying the comradery of the community and bonding with Plummer residents. But, notably, much of her time has been spent in peaceful solitude – just her, the land, and the sound of the waves against the rocks.
“Plummer is a second home to me,” she says.
On behalf of everyone at Plummer, we want to thank Amanda for her hard work, creativity, and vision. The garden program has created a safe space for Plummer youth to interact with nature and feel connected – to the earth, to others, and to their environment. For those young people, it is part of what makes the Winter Island property not just a house, but a home.