Beth Hartnett, a senior vice president of Business Support and Program Management at Bank of America, has been proudly serving on the Board of Directors of the Portsmouth Community Garden for the last few years. This sunny plot of land in the seaside town of Portsmouth, NH, has become a community space where individuals and local organizations can grow food in a peaceful, respectful and inclusive environment.
About an hour north of Boston, Portsmouth has a rich history of community gardening – dating back to the WWII era. But when a group of passionate local leaders recognized that a present-day community garden was lacking in their area, they joined together to research, plan, fundraise, work with the city, physically build and launch the first phase of the garden this summer.
“Phase 1 was 33 plots, but we built the fence to accommodate 90 plots,” Beth shared. “Phase 2 is lining up corporate sponsors to provide volunteers so we can complete those. It’s awesome working with the gardeners. We’re in a lovely sunny spot and the gardeners love working with us! I can’t tell you how many pounds of tomatoes I grew, harvested and ate this year.”
Leveraging her business acumen and skills as a strategic communications and planning professional, Beth successfully built and executed a fundraising plan to attract major donors, resulting in a coffer of $12,000. These funds enabled the organization to build a high-quality fence and a rodent barrier large enough to house the planned total 90 garden plots and to purchase the soil and build the 33 raised beds for the first phase.
In addition, Beth created the content for the garden’s website, including member rules and processes, as well as the format for the member newsletter. She wrote press releases and helped coordinate the four volunteer build-out days, plus prepared PowerPoint decks for presentations to city leadership including the Legal team and Public Works department as well as the City Council.
Additionally, Beth has engaged with point people at local organizations to ensure the group leverages its over 80+ corporate and community volunteers effectively. Now that the garden plots are growing, Beth shares in the management of the bi-monthly member work days.
“I started getting involved in my own sustainability journey and I’ve been learning more and more about making small changes in my life,” Beth reflected. “Then I had the opportunity to help launch a community garden in my hometown. I leaped in because it fit in with my own growth in the sustainability space, but then it led to this broader impact. Post-pandemic, it really was a healthy way for us to connect with other people, and there are so many impacted people in our community.
Beth is passionate about what the garden provides not only in terms of community camaraderie through volunteering, but fighting food insecurity locally. Last year, the garden provided 250 pounds of surplus harvest and Beth anticipates they’ll end up tripling that number this year.
“I love the aspect of the garden where we give surplus harvest to a local food bank,” she said. “I have my own plot, and then we have community plots with sweet potatoes, tomatoes and herbs. Any gardener can go and just take those. That’s where we also harvest for the food bank.”
Beth not only volunteers with the garden, but takes individual measures to help positively impact the environment. “Besides composting, I’m interested in education, in learning about environmental issues and their impact,” she said. “Also, every season I have clothing exchanges with my friends where we exchange clothing, and then we donate the rest to local organizations. But now I’m much more thoughtful about my purchases, so that I don’t necessarily have to get to the point of having to reuse and recycle. Education has helped immensely.”
Beth knows that individual effort isn’t enough to create something like the Portsmouth Community Garden. She recommends that anyone looking to start a cause of any kind partner with other passionate individuals to get the job done well.
“You can’t do it on your own,” Beth shared. “It takes a lot of work – more than you think – to create something that positively impacts your community. Come together with like-minded people, put a call out to the community, find other people who are interested. Find a team.” For the Portsmouth Community Garden, visionary founder Trisha Donohue was the individual who brought together a team, including Beth. “It wouldn’t have happened without her,” Beth noted.
The future is bright for the Portsmouth Community Garden as they move on to Phase 2 of the project. “We have plans for engaging with more of the community, partnering with our local library and having a walking book tour with laminated pages of books where kids can walk through, get exercise and read more about gardening,” said Beth. “We’re excited about expanding our program. So it’s the food insecurity advocacy plus the community programming that I’m really excited about for this next phase.”
And Beth hopes to share her knowledge and experience in this space to help other communities achieve the same outcomes. “One of the things I want to do is put together a top-ten list of how to start a community garden. I think that might be helpful for people. We didn’t make up the rules in a vacuum – we did our research. I want to put together templates for people to use, which will make things more easily replicable,” she says.
This exciting, impactful and fulfilling volunteer experience has greatly benefitted Beth and her community, driving forward sustainability and advocacy in Portsmouth and beyond.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Beth? Find local volunteer opportunities.