Overall People of the Year: Amy Davidson and Laurie Nigro

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter, councilwoman Jodi Giglio and councilman Jim Wooten joined the River and Roots community garden's co-founders Amy Davidson (left) and Laurie Nigro (far right) with daughter Rita for a formal ribbon cutting this past June.

Two years ago, walking past an empty and glass-strewn lot south of West Main Street, few could envision a place where children would plant their first vegetable seeds.

Most people could never imagine a place where residents young and old would congregate and trade gardening tips and where a veritable community meeting place would soon spring from the ground.

But Amy Davidson and Laurie Nigro did. The pair are the founders of downtown’s River and Roots Community Garden, which opened to the public last spring on town-owned property just south of the intersection of Griffing Avenue and West Main Street.

With a little bit of grant money, the blessing of Riverhead Town and a small army of volunteers, the women transformed that land into something every Riverhead resident can be proud to call their own community garden.

“I think the community garden has brought a fresh surge of energy to the west end of Main Street,” said Lisa Jacobs, director of the nearby Riverhead Free Library.

That, in a nutshell, is why the News-Review has named Ms. Nigro and Ms. Davidson its 2011 People of the Year.

For a small fee, locals can maintain a plot inside the wrought iron fence surrounding the garden. For that price, they also get the camaraderie of working side by side with other local gardeners.

The pair spent hour upon hour researching other successful community gardens around the country, said Ms. Davidson’s husband, Dan Kulp. They also had to solicit donations and work with town officials to secure the land. Mr. Kulp noted that while Ms. Davidson and Ms. Nigro were doing all that, they were also balancing their roles as teachers for their home-schooled children.

“It was great multi-tasking,” he said. “She was working pretty much non-stop.”

Ms. Nigro and Ms. Davidson may be the driving forces behind the project, but they did get some help along the way.

Inmates at the Suffolk County jail in Riverside helped build more than two dozen wooden beds for the garden. River and Roots also received a $10,000 grant from Cornell Cooperative Extension and a $5,000 award from the Riverhead Business Improvement District. Local businesses also donated materials.

And while searching for the perfect spot and facing some roadblocks here and there, the pair never wavered from holding out for a downtown plot.

Town officials had originally said the land where the garden now sits was promised to a local veterans group for a memorial, and a suitable alternative could not be found. But it turned out the site hadn’t been promised to veterans, so the town was able to rent the land to the gardeners.

The garden opened about five months after the River and Roots nonprofit group signed its lease with Riverhead Town.

“As downtown residents who want to see Main Street flourish, these ladies got the idea, got the Town Board’s support, got the prime plot of land on the river, got the nonprofit status, got the fence, got the boxes, got the gardeners and even got the plants,” said Jamesport resident Nancy Swett, founder of the I Love Riverhead group. “They did it all with style and grace.”

During his Jan. 1 inauguration, Supervisor Sean Walter called the garden “a dream of two women” that came true, even “when they were told it couldn’t be done.

“They did it anyway, and it has become a beacon of light on West Main Street.”

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