Beth Roy: Growing Through Gardening

Colgate Community Garden Manager Elizabeth Roy has devoted her career to healing, connecting and growing others through the art of gardening. With a B.S. in psychology from Union College, Roy went on to become a certified horticultural therapist. She kicked off her career working with adults with developmental disabilities and connecting them with horticulture and gardening. In 2009, after having twins, Roy decided to stay home for a while to raise them. After they grew up, Roy knew she had to branch out again, which is where Colgate comes in. 

“This opening came up at Colgate that was a perfect fit for me and for my family — it mixed my background really well,” Roy said. “I actually did not have any experience with a community garden before coming to Colgate. When I heard what the position was, I loved that idea because my background of working and gardening with people with developmental disabilities [was] pretty eye-opening and inspiring to work with people in the garden.”

Since 2013, Roy has been working closely with both the Colgate and local communities to build connections and grow the garden further. 

“It’s been a fun journey. When I [first] came to the garden I was sort of missing the community connection of the community garden idea, so we’ve really grown that a lot since I’ve been here. [We’ve] invited community members, [and] not just Colgate community members but all community members to come to the garden.”

Part of the garden’s goal is to create a sustainable environment here in Hamilton. Half of the produce grown in the garden goes into Colgate, either to be served in the dining halls or sold in weekly farm stands, while the other half is donated directly to the Hamilton Food Cupboard.

Beyond just cultivating further connections Roy has also overseen many physical changes to the community garden. In her time here the garden has moved twice, with the most recent move happening just this year. The new place is located directly between the Colgate townhouses and the Good Nature Farm Brewery, and is centered at a blue house owned by the University. 

“The whole garden team and the whole sustainability department are really excited at this particular moment because we have this brand new space and we have the support of the university. There’s sort of infinite possibilities right now. We’re dreaming big and we’re asking for input from students about what [they] would want to see,” said Roy. 

The whole mission of the garden is educational, which Roy hopes will continue on in the new space. When talking about goals of the new garden Roy stated it simply: “teaching students and welcoming community members in to teach them about small-scale agriculture and organic farming.”

The two student clubs affiliated with the community garden are the Green Thumbs and, most recently, the Beekeeping Club. Back in 2017, the first hives were added to the garden. 

“That’s been a really nice addition. It’s a perfect relationship,” she said. “I think the community garden is a good place for that club to start thriving. What better place for the bees than to be surrounded by vegetables and flowers?” 

Given the future prospects of the new garden and the vibrant community surrounding it, these hives will surely house some jaunty bees. 

One downside attached to upstate New York gardening is the intense winters that restrict the planting seasons. The main activity months for the garden are May through October. However, this might change. 

“With the new space … we’re really looking to expand [the active months] a little bit. So the addition of a greenhouse and some programming space indoors. We’re really hopeful that we can start expanding on [those] educational opportunities that could happen when it’s snowing,” Roy said.

When asked if she still sees her experience of being a horticultural therapist in her work Roy responded clearly: “I see the effects of it every time someone comes to the garden. I think that just in general, gardening and working with the dirt gives so much release to people.”

If students want to experience the garden themselves there will be a Harvest Festival on Friday, Oct. 22 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the garden. It’ll be a soft opening for the new garden with fun Fall activities, food, music and a symbolic tree planting. On Oct. 15, the Friday before the festival, there will also be a brown bag with more information on the history of the garden and plans for moving forward.