Gardener Brings a Community Together

Daily Point of Light # 7575 Jun 15, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Patricia “Tricia” Dononue. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light. 

Tricia Donohue is from Albany, New York. After a brief stint in New Jersey, Tricia and her husband relocated to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, looking for fresh air and natural spaces to raise their children. 

Tricia’s business is garden design and maintenance. She attributes her love of gardening to her mother, who is still an avid gardener at age 87. However, it wasn’t until around five years ago that Tricia shifted her focus from perennial foundation gardens into growing vegetables. 

Tricia found vegetable gardening to be challenging in Portsmouth since lot sizes are small, and many of them are shaded. She did what she could with the space she had. By now she had the vegetable-growing bug and wanted to join a community garden where she could have a larger space. To her dismay, she found that there wasn’t a community garden in all of Portsmouth, which is home to 21,000 people. And so, she decided to start one. 

What inspires you to volunteer? 

I noticed that it was hard for folks in Portsmouth to grow their own vegetables. Not only are lots small, but there are also many apartments without any outdoor space. I wanted to join a community garden but I didn’t find one. Opening our community garden was actually perfect timing. It was toward the end of the pandemic, people were still isolated but desperate to get out and socialize. People were desperately missing social connection. An outdoor garden is a perfect way for people to meet safely! For me, the gardening aspect of a community garden is the main reason I started it – a place where anyone can grow their own food in a supportive environment. But now, several years in, the community aspect has become just as important. People who normally wouldn’t meet have created some amazing friendships because of the garden.

Tricia Donohue (in hat) at the Volunteer Work Day to build the raised beds at the Portsmouth Community Garden./Courtesy Tricia Donohue

Describe your volunteer role with the Portsmouth Community Garden.  

I wear many hats, including a gardening hat! I am the founder of the Portsmouth Community Garden. Today, I serve as the Board Chair and take on all kinds of administrative tasks including editing our monthly newsletter, overseeing our food donation program at Gather, which is a local food pantry. I handle member questions and oversee the volunteer program. I keep our website updated, and log the garden’s expenses and income. 

I also managed the entire build-out of our garden. We constructed a 60’x200′ deer fence, a storage shed,  70 raised beds – we started with 35 raised beds and added 35 more this year and completely maxed out the space. 

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work? 

Being able to donate as much surplus food is just amazing. We deliver to Gather, a local food pantry, every Monday. Equally rewarding is being in the garden and seeing people whose garden beds are next to each other helping each other, bonding, and growing friendships. The community garden brings people together who might not otherwise know each other. 

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer? 

I wasn’t much of a volunteer or community service person before I caught the vegetable gardening bug. I was busy raising my kids and running my business but other than occasionally volunteering at the school, I wasn’t very involved. 

Once I started the community garden, I discovered a renewed faith in humanity. In a world where the news is so depressing and many people are losing hope, I have been overwhelmed by how many people wanted to take time out of their busy lives to make this happen. After I started the garden, I began seeing the good in people. I didn’t realize that there were so many in the community who were willing to stop what they were doing to share their expertise, effort and money. I am truly overwhelmed! 

Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about? 

Since we are maxed out at the location and can’t add any beds, we are planning to expand our  outreach program. We are building a pergola that will be used for education and programs. We want to invite everyone to come learn how easy it is to grow your own food. We want to invite people who normally wouldn’t grow their own food or want to but don’t have time.  

At the beginning of the season we host an opening day celebration where we sell seedlings. At the end of the season we have a potluck where people share dishes using the food they grew. We also do a final cleanup to get the garden ready for spring.  

This year, one of our members, who is a local chef, said he would cook for everyone using what we grew. We also plan on holding seminars and various outreach programs later this yea and into next year. 

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about? 

You feel so good when you do something good. If everyone did a little something in the way of a small community service project, everyone would feel good. I feel happier and more fulfilled since I started this. Yes, it takes a ton of time and energy but I love it. We would be a better society if everyone did a little something! 

What do you want people to learn from your story? 

If I can do this, anybody can do it! You don’t have to go out and start a new nonprofit. You can try different things until you find something that makes you feel fulfilled and do that, whether it’s one hour a month or one hour a week. 

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Tricia? Find local volunteer opportunities

Jarmila Gorman