Belmont Victory Gardens
The Belmont Victory Gardens are located on Mill Street in Belmont, Massachusetts, between Trapelo Road and Winter Street. They are administrated by the Belmont Conservation Commission as part of Rock Meadow Conservation Area.
Rock Meadow is public conservation land and comprises 70 acres of meadow, wetlands, streams, and woods. It is a part of the Western Greenway, a corridor of undeveloped green spaces that connects the towns of Belmont, Waltham, and Lexington (see Western Greenway map below). The Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife has designated Rock Meadow an important grassland conservation area. It provides significant habitat for plants and animals that are rapidly disappearing as forests and suburbs encroach upon former farmland. Rock Meadow offers opportunities for hiking, birding, biking, picnicking, cross-country skiing, and community gardening.
click image to view large scale.
History of Rock Meadow
Rock Meadow was created by retreating glaciers about 10,000 years ago. It was maintained as a meadow for hundreds if not thousands of years by the native people of this area, the Pequosette Indians, who periodically burned the meadow to attract and hunt game.
Colonial period (17th to 19th century)
The Eaton, Brown, and Kendall families arrived in the area during the 17th and 18th centuries and were the first white people to settle along Beaver Brook, which runs through Rock Meadow. Over the next 250 years, they and their descendents pastured animals in the meadow and operated wool, lumber, and grain mills on Beaver Brook. Today, the millpond, the 1750 Eaton House, and 1819 David Kendall House (all located south of the present day meadow) are the only legacies of those times.
McLean Farm (1895 to 1969)
In 1895, McLean Hospital (founded in 1811 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and the first mental hospital in the United States) purchased 100 acres of land, including Rock Meadow, and relocated to Belmont. In addition to its campus of buildings, the hospital also created a farm that provided most of the food needed for the live-in patients and staff. In 1927, the facilities included a farmhouse, stone crusher, cow barn, dairy barn, silo, slaughterhouse, pump house, greenhouse, two piggeries, and two stables. But by the 1940s, so many men had been called to the war effort that the farm was shut down for lack of farmhands. After the war, food production and distribution changed so much in the region that the farm never reopened. In 1969, the hospital sold the land to the Town of Belmont. An abandoned dairy barn, located just south of the meadow, is the only remnant of the McLean Farm.
The Victory Gardens
Belmont’s community gardens were first established during World War II and known as victory gardens. Victory gardens were part of a nationwide effort promoted by the federal government to ease food shortages and boost national morale. At their peak, they produced up to 40 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States during the war.
Belmont’s victory gardens were originally located near the town center on Concord Avenue at the site of the current high school campus. In 1969, the site was earmarked for athletic fields, and the gardens were moved to the Town’s new conservation land at Rock Meadow.
During the 1970s, a time of “back to the land” and “grow your own,” community gardening underwent a nationwide renaissance. The United States also experienced its first oil crisis, and gasoline and food prices spiked. Community gardens sprang up everywhere, in vacant inner city lots and suburbs like Belmont.
In the 1980s, the oil crisis was a thing of the past, career building replaced gardening, and interest in community gardens waned. By the end of the 1990s, many community gardens across the country had been bulldozed for other uses. The victory gardens at Rock Meadow were protected from that fate, although more and more plots became abandoned. This was partly because they were in conservation land, and partly because they were literally being grown over, like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, out of site from most people except the remaining gardeners.
But around 2003 things began to change, first for Rock Meadow, then for the victory gardens. Deborah Hartman, resident of the Kendall Gardens neighborhood adjoining Rock Meadow, brought together some of her neighbors and other citizens in Belmont to share their concerns about the gradual loss of the meadow to reforestation. They formed a citizens group, the Friends of Rock Meadow, and for two years raised money to help pay for mowing. Then in 2005, they partnered with the Belmont Conservation Commission and raised over $75,000 in matching grants to create a long term management plan (see Recommendations for Field Management at Rock Meadow).
At about the same time, a surge of interest in the victory gardens began. In spring 2007, there was a threefold increase in applications for garden plots over the previous year; all vacant plots were assigned. In spring 2008, more plots were created to accommodate the demand. In spring 2009, there was a waiting list of 50 people. What happened?
Visibility. One reason that interest in Belmont's victory gardens has spiked is that the gardens are more visible than they have been for decades. In 2006 large swaths of invasive trees were cleared, enabling motorists along Mill Street and visitors to the meadow to actually see the gardens that were formerly hidden.In addition, references to the victory gardens appeared on Belmont’s town website in conjunction with the meadow restoration plan,enabling people searching for a community garden to actually find them in Belmont.
Leadership and management. For the first time in the 40 years that Belmont has owned the meadow, there is now a long-term stewardship plan in place. Also, leadership and management have emerged, largely in the person of Mary Trudeau, the new conservation agent, and a few gardeners who have been collaborating with her.
Changing times. Larger social forces have also impacted what is happening at the gardens. For example,a growing concern about our globalized food system, its risks to our health and the health of our communities and our planet. Also, skyrocketing unemployment and the rising cost of food. In response to these concerns, the demand for fresh, local, and sustainably raised food has surged in recent years, as has the interest in vegetable gardening. Today, more and more people are growing their own, and a nationwide local food movement has begun. Henri Matisse appears to have been right in predicting that “The day will come when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.”
This overview was written by Victoria Thatcher for The Belmont Conservation Commission. The BCC is grateful to the following people for providing information: Curtis Adams, Richard Betts, Terry Bragg, Deborah Hartman, Mary Trudeau, and Margaret Velie. Thanks also to the Waltham Land Trust for giving us permission to reproduce their map of the Western Greenway.
How to Apply for a Victory Garden Plot
The annual fee for a garden plot is being determined.
To find out about the availability of plots, contact Mary Trudeau, the Belmont Conservation Agent, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-993-2667.
Growing Season can be downloaded here. Completed forms should be mailed or delivered to:
Mary Trudeau Conservation Agent
Victory Garden Calendar
- Late February
- Registration forms are mailed to returning gardeners and new applicants.
- Late March
- Deadline for registering and paying annual fee. Returning gardeners must also register each year to retain their plots.
- Allocation of available plots.
- All gardeners are expected to help with the annual clean up.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to be a resident of Belmont to garden at Rock Meadow?
Anyone can garden at Rock Meadow. Currently, we do not have preference for Belmont residents, but there has been discussion that, should a waiting list develop, residents of Belmont will have first choice.
When are garden plots allocated?
Plots are allocated on the annual Spring Clean-Up Day. Should additional plots be available after the initial assignment date, the gardens will be assigned on a first come, first served basis. We generally have garden space available throughout the spring, so please contact us if you think you might like a plot.
At the clean-up day, all gardeners, new and returning, are expected help clear trash and invasive plants from the paths and periphery of the gardens. The clean up is from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, after which the available plots are allocated.
How are plots allocated?
Returning gardeners who want to switch plots have seniority and are granted first choice of any available gardens. This is done on a first-come-first-serve basis according to the order in which requests from returning gardeners were received.
New gardeners select from the remaining available plots. This is done on a first-come-first-serve basis according to the order in which requests submitted by new gardeners were received.
Can I apply for more than one plot?
Because of rising demand for plots, the current policy is one plot per household. Two or three households have tended double plots for many years, and these have been “grandfathered” for the current year. It is unlikely, however, that any households will retain double plots after the summer of 2008.
Is water supplied to the gardens?
Yes, water taps are spaced throughout the gardens where hoses can be attached. Water is turned on by the Town in early May and turned off in early October. Water usage is paid out of the garden registration fees.
Why Community Gardens Are Important
- Improve the quality of life for people in the garden
- Provide a catalyst for neighborhood and community development
- Stimulate social interaction
- Encourage self-reliance
- Beautify neighborhoods
- Produce nutritious food
- Reduce family food budgets
- Conserve resources
- Create opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education
- Reduce crime
- Preserve green space
- Create income opportunities and economic development
- Reduce city heat from streets and parking lots
- Provide opportunities for young and old from many cultures to connect
To find out more about community gardening across the United States and in our area, check the American Community Gardening Association at www.acga.org.
American Community Gardening Association has a database of community gardens across the United States, plus many links related to gardening, urban agriculture, and sustainable food.
Belmont Gardens Open to the Public
Habitat is a property of the Mass Audubon Society and is located on Juniper Road above the Center. The terrace of Habitat's 1914 Georgian-style house leads to formal gardens, a rose garden, and a spacious lawn surrounded by flowering trees and shrubs. The house and gardens are set within an 87-acre wildlife sanctuary of meadows, ponds, and woods.
The Woodland Garden at the Main Belmont Public Library, maintained by The Belmont Garden Club, is a small woodland garden at the Belmont Public Library on Concord Avenue near the Center. It features native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers and has benches for sitting and relaxing.
To find out about the availability of garden plots, how to apply, and how to get in touch with one of the garden coordinators, contact the Town’s Conservation Agent at:
Conservation Agent, Town of Belmont
19 Moore Street, Homer Building
Belmont, MA 02478
Rock Meadow is located along Mill Street in Belmont, between Trapelo Road on the south and Winter Street on the north. To the east of the meadow is McLean Open Space, and to the south is Beaver Brook North Reservation. Paths begin at the parking lot.
The meadow is not actually designated on maps, but the general area can be found by Googling “Beaver Brook Reservation.” Just north of the reservation is a small residential area, and just north of that is an unmarked area that is Rock Meadow.
By bus and on foot: Take the #73 bus from Harvard Square to Waverley Square; walk 2 blocks west to Mill Street, turn right, and walk about 1 mile to Rock Meadow. (Note: There is no sidewalk along Mill Street.)
Rock Meadow Management Plan
In order to stem the incremental loss of Rock Meadow to reforestation and invasive plant species that are destroying this important grassland ecosystem, The Friends of Rock Meadow and the Belmont Conservation Commission partnered in 2005 to develop a long-term management plan. Together they received cost-share funding that amounted to roughly $50,000 from the USDA Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program. This money has been applied towards a $70,000 dollar program of restoration and maintenance, enabling the Belmont Conservation Commission to contract for a 10-year plan to restore the meadow. In addition, a grant from the Rails to Trails Program of the Department of Conservation and Recreation is enabling the Commission to improve basic infrastructure such as trails, bridges, signs, and benches. The first phase of the work began in the summer of 2007 and will continue throughout the next 10 years. For more information and updates, see Recommendations for Field Management at Rock Meadow or contact Mary Trudeau, Belmont Conservation Agent, at Belmont Town Hall, email@example.com or 617-993-2667.