New Haveners grew a green thumb this Saturday as residents helped tend citywide gardens.

On Saturday, the New Haven Land Trust hosted its third annual Citywide Open Garden Day. The organization hosts the event to encourage residents to work at the community garden nearest to them and to get people involved in the city’s gardening projects. Citywide Open Garden Day is held in conjunction with New Haven’s 2018 Rock to Rock Day of Service and Quinnipiac University’s Big Event, the school’s annual one-day, student-run service project.

Fourteen gardens throughout the city were open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Although the gardens are open for residents to tend throughout the year, the New Haven Land Trust decided to create an official open garden day to let residents know that they can work in the gardens at any time.

The gardens began cropping up in town in the late 1990s and add greenery to the Elm City while also providing food for households. After crops are harvested, community members can come to the individual gardens and collect fresh food at no cost.

Compared to previous years, an underwhelming number of people came out to the gardens on Saturday, according to Bradley Fleming, the community garden manager for the New Haven Land Trust. The program’s website and Facebook page advertised a bicycle tour of the participating gardens, but no one showed up for it. By 1 p.m., most of the gardens had closed for the day because of the chilly weather.

“Most people who come to Citywide Open Garden day are gardeners that are already active in the gardens, and then there are volunteer groups,” Fleming said. “We hope that if there are people in the community who are interested in gardening, they might come to this event. But the cold weather this year probably really discouraged people from coming.”

One of the gardens that did see a lot of action on Saturday was the Clinton Avenue School location in the Fair Haven neighborhood. Roughly a dozen students and teachers spent the day tending the gardens and preparing to plant a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Rasha Abuhatab, a student at the Metropolitan Business Academy, was one of the gardeners hard at work. She is part of Growing Entrepreneurs, a youth program run by the New Haven Land Trust that works with high school students to develop small-business ventures to benefit their communities.

The two-year-old program grew out of Youth At Work, a city initiative where high school students are paid to work at a variety of organizations over the summer, according to Fleming. Students in the Growing Entrepreneurs program create social enterprises that are environmentally focused, such as building gardens for private clients, growing spices and teas to sell year-round, as well as selling produce to local restaurants. Abuhatab has developed “Hot Hoops,” a business venture that creates and sells mini-hoop houses, which are a series of large hoops covered with greenhouse plastic that allow crops to be grown through winter.

The New Haven Land Trust’s varying programs and community events bring members of the community together to engage with nature, beautifying New Haven. The trust’s mission is to engage people in stewardship and cultivation of the land for a healthier community and environment, according to their website.

J.R. Logan, board secretary of the New Haven Land Trust, discussed ways the Citywide Open Garden Day furthers the trust’s mission.

“Before this day, gardens operated on a very disorganized schedule, and sometimes there were coordinators who weren’t communicating well to the broader community,” he said. “So, if you have open days that are publicized, it’s an opportunity for a community member to come down and meet the coordinator and get connected with a gardener. It’s just an invitation to walk through the gate. By creating a day, it gets more people to come outside, be more engaged with the community and help us create a healthier and more environmentally sound city.”

The New Haven Land Trust, which manages nearly 50 community gardens throughout the Elm City, was founded in 1982.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu