The day of the potato harvest was sunny and breezy. The week before with a few volunteers we had cut back the green parts of the plants, leaving nothing to show that there was anything growing in the quarter acre of tilled ground off the side of Turnpike Road in Norwich. Weeks before I had checked a few of the roots to see what was underneath and found clumps of potatoes that still looked small. I hoped they had grown large in these final weeks.
Soon, our volunteers began to arrive, one by one, trickling in and joining the group as we dug up the clumps of earth and plucked the vegetables from the soil. That day we dug over 600 pounds of potatoes from our food pantry garden, all destined for Willing Hands and our neighbors with food insecurities who need our help.
Managing our conservation areas for the good of the whole community is a fundamental commitment of the Upper Valley Land Trust. The Brookmead Food Pantry Garden and the 7 cords of wood from UVLT’s Robert Areson Conservation Area that went into the Norwich woodshed to provide fuel assistance this winter are examples of that management.
Last winter UVLT held a timber harvest in our Robert Areson Conservation Area, also in Norwich, which was done to create a healthier and more vibrant all-aged forest. Out of that timber harvest UVLT and the loggers doing the cut donated a truckload to logs to the Norwich Woodshed, the local fire assistance program. With volunteers from Hypertherm, UVLT spent a day bucking, splitting, and stacking 10 cords of wood that will be given to those who need it this winter.
Those are tangible, physical gifts from the land. The land helps support and sustain us physically, keeping us well fed and warm. But the land offers other gifts too. I had the pleasure this summer to hold two workshops in Charlestown, NH at UVLT’s Up on the Hill Conservation Area in conjunction with
the Sullivan Country Conservation District. During the first one we taught a group of 10 people, half of whom were children, how to identify common milkweed, monarch butterfly eggs, and monarch caterpillars. After that we spread out and monitored all the milkweed we could find. We monitored 256 milkweed plants that day, found 100 eggs, 50 caterpillars and several adults. But those numbers aren’t what really mattered.
A few weeks later a woman emailed to say that her two grandchildren couldn’t stop talking about or looking for monarchs. They found them at their house in Canaan, NH and were monitoring the chrysalises on their porch railings. They were waiting and watching for them to emerge with such joy and wonder.
The land offers other gifts too: a perfect night sky drawing people together for an evening of stargazing at Mountain View Farm in Orford; the happy voices and laughter of neighbors convening at the summit of Lyme’s Pinnacle to celebrate a summer’s work of trail-building and stewardship; a group of volunteers working together to build new trails and improve old ones for the community.
The land nourishes and feeds us. It keeps us whole and healthy. It renews our bodies and spirits. It fills us with unending joy and wonder. That too, is a gift from the land.