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​Find past newsletter articles, press releases, and other media showcasing local agriculture, placed-based education, and conservation of natural resources in Sullivan County.

Treasures all around...musings on the Sugar River Valley

Out in Unity, just over the Claremont line, the Sullivan County Complex stretches across acres of forest and meadows. This complex is hidden treasure, tucked in just around a bend in the Sugar River. Bordered by wooded hills to the east and the southwest, the complex is home to the Department of Corrections, Sullivan County Healthcare, and the Eco Ag Center. The surrounding landscape features meadows, forest, and the remnants of an old apple orchard, with an active cidery that is available to the public for apple pressing in season.

My first exposure to the Eco Ag Center was when I read about an early spring plant sale posted on Social Media. I learned that each Spring and Fall the center holds a native plant sale. My husband and I had recently relocated to Claremont from Rhode Island, and starting a garden was one of my first planned projects. That spring, along with ordering some thornless bare root blackberry plants, I was able to volunteer at the Center, helping to sort and label plants for distribution. Among the standard offerings were berry plants, small trees and shrubs, wild ramps, asparagus roots, and freshly dug field grown pansies. Packets of seeds, harvested during the previous late summer and fall, were also available.

Since that first experience, I continue as an active volunteer at the SCCD Community Garden, which is part of Eco Ag Center. Whether it is to weed and water the pollinator and cut flower gardens, or to help harvest and sort seeds in preparation for the next plant sale, visiting the Community Garden has become one of my favorite spring and summer activities.

The County complex is reached from Claremont by driving out Chestnut Street into Unity. That route follows a portion of the Sugar River as the river winds its way west toward the Connecticut River from its origins at Lake Sunapee, NH. The river nourishes a landscape of fields, woodland and farmland, creating a transition from city to rural fields and forests.

Driving from Claremont to the Conservation site on a warm summer morning, I anticipate the walk from my car to the gardens. Seeds were planted at the right time for sowing, and over the ensuing couple of months, tomatoes, squash, herbs, flowers, all a summery kaleidoscope, flank the pathway to the cutting garden, which I will water and weed.

Community gardeners tend their individual vegetable patches. Surrounding the vegetable plots are neatly organized compost bins and weed piles, and pollinator friendly plants: a wealth of summer flowers, herbs and berries. In late June and early July, you will be overwhelmed with poppies of all colors imaginable drifting in the breeze. A veritable ground-level fireworks display bursts from that earthly abundance: early summer shades of green, pink, purple, red, white and blue.

The cutting garden is cultivated in a richly composted gentle hill formation, originating from a Hugelkultur. The Eco Ag Center serves as an educational site for developing sustainable gardening strategies and techniques. The Hugelkultur was built from tree trimmings and other compostable materials. The cutting garden is wedged between an asparagus patch on one end and an overgrowth of Amaranth and various other voluntary plants that have benefited from the rich soil.

By early August in the cutting garden, pathways that were prepped in June to form the flower rows have filled in with supple foliage and flower heads: zinnias in bright orange, purple, yellow and subtle shades, too, form canopies over the once distinct rows. Strawflowers reach for the sky. Sunflowers peer down over the rows. Floral abundance is all around and the pollinators are buzzing! A word of caution…do not step into the cutting garden without gloves and long pants in late July.

One of my pleasures upon arriving over the summer will be to watch and listen to the birds! Bluebird houses are mounted, and this is where I have seen the bluebirds that I don’t see in our Claremont yard. Drawn by the ample mosquito supply, no doubt, swallows dip and dart in that wide open space. Indeed, they will fly straight at you if you appear to threaten their nests. Redwing blackbirds perch on tall grass in the field, and on cattails in the pond adjacent to the gardens. And then there are the dragon flies zigzagging above the pond surface. That pond supplies the well that is maintained for our watering needs.

Familiar hills, valleys, meadows, and rivers drew me back home to Sullivan County after having lived in several other locations over previous decades. I am thankful to have found this particular treasure, a true refuge.


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