BETHEL — At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, a van of four teenagers and two instructors pulls up to the Bethel Community Garden on High Street. The North Star gardeners come every week and today will harvest vegetables and herbs and later make salsa across the street at Gemini Cafe.

Justin Bondesen finds a scary tomato Sept. 6. Rose Lincoln

After a quick scan of the first garden, they head through a path, across Modern Barn’s parking lot, to a larger garden on Summer Street. Several raised beds are on property owned by Peter and Sarah Southam.

It’s quiet until Liz Manjourides, 16, of Bryant Pond connects her playlist to the boom box. She and others sing along to loud music by Sophie Marie and Mad Tsai. Jonathan Wallace, an AmeriCorps volunteer working at North Star this year, lowers the volume. “Let’s make this background music,” he says, but later when the music has risen up a notch he says, “Garden party, why not?”

In the meantime, Felix Marshall, 13, of Greenwood, is naming a squash ‘Gordon Ramsey’ and his tomatoes, Changus, Joker and Mr. Baldie.

Program Coordinator Justin Bondesen says to the others, “If you looked up jalapeno in the dictionary this is what it would look like.”

Luka Rose Espinoza, 14, of Albany says, “One thing I’m a big fan of when it comes to Garden Club, is just the general energy and the gardening itself. Everyone here is supportive.” Manjourides says the support comes from members of the group and the community, too. “It’s a fun environment all together.”


In their arms and in bags, they carry giant tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and jalapenos to Gemini.  Once there, they wash their hands and snap on gloves.

Bondesen gives a knife safety demonstration. He explains “the claw,” which is what the non-cutting hand should look like so as not to lose any fingers.

Gemini co-owner, Anna Sysko, is at a different workstation prepping for a catering job, but answering questions too. She explains that cutting boards are color coordinated depending on what kind of food you cutting.

Bondesen has brought jars so everyone can take salsa home but he also brought chips so they can sample some at Gemini.

For now, they juice the limes and busily cut the tomatoes, onions and jalapenos.

“I feel the tears in my eyes,” says Marshall, who is cutting onions.

“Embrace that emotion,” responds Bondesen.

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