OLD LYME — UPDATED 11:30 a.m. with Ward’s response to receiving the award and more photos: James ‘Jim’ Ward, founder and president of the Lyme-Old Lyme Food Share Garden (LOLFSG), was named Old Lyme’s 2023 Citizen of the Year at Monday night’s Annual Town Meeting held in the Meeting Hall of Old Lyme’s Memorial Town Hall.
Despite the cold, many friends and supporters of Ward turned out to celebrate his success, although, in keeping with years of tradition, he himself knew nothing about the impending award. Ward was tricked into attending the meeting having been advised that a friend was receiving it!
Old Lyme First Selectwoman Martha Shoemaker opened her announcement of the 2023 honoree for the award with the words, “In my opinion, choosing the Citizen of the Year award is one of the hardest decisions the board of selectmen make all year. The reason for that is because we have so many deserving citizens in Old Lyme.”
She noted that the board of selectmen appreciated all the letters of recommendation for the 2023 Citizen of the Year that were sent this year.
Shoemaker continued, “As a teacher, I always taught my students to not judge a book by its cover. Our 2023 Citizen of the Year has been called by his neighbors, “A quiet man.”” She then gently joked, “After hearing his accomplishments, you may wonder how he can be quiet.”
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.,” Shoemaker said, “This year’s recipient is a master at figuring out how to create and lead a non-profit organization, build grassroot financial support, and oh, rally people to grow, harvest, and send over 5,000 pounds of fresh vegetables to food banks across the region. All on an accelerated timeline.”
She then announced, “Our 2023 Citizen of the Year is Old Lyme resident Jim Ward, President of the Lyme-Old Lyme Food Share Garden, and a Champion for creating community around local environmental and food security solutions.”
Asked early Tuesday morning, his reaction to being named to the honor, Ward responded via email, saying, “Having processed last night I would like to thank my better half, Sheila, the LOLFSG Board of Directors, the garden volunteers and all those who have supported us financially.”
He added, ” It takes a village to raise a community garden. It is has been an honor for me personally and for the garden community to be recognized as the Citizen of the Year.”
Ward concluded, “Thanks to all who nominated me and wrote letters of support and to the Board of Selectpersons for their selection.”
The full text of Shoemaker’s explanation of and justification for Ward being this year’s honoree follows in italics:
A passionate environmentalist, Jim quietly takes actions to help others learn how to make a difference in our environment, because teachers believe every moment is a teachable moment – The catalyst for his community building efforts began when Jim participated in the 2020 UConn Master Gardening Program. Jim’s required outreach hours for the program were met by volunteering at the Food for All garden in Clinton.
His admiration for how the Food For All garden and other similar gardens in the region met the increasing needs of community food banks was equaled by his appreciation for the sense of community they created. This was something Jim thought the Lyme-Old Lyme community could replicate.
In seeking a potential site for a food bank community garden here, Jim presented his ideas to the Old Lyme Parks & Recreation Commission and the Inland Wetlands Commission; and through his thorough and considerate presentations to both, gained support to utilize a parcel of land at Town Woods Park for his envisioned community garden. He and his wife Sheila thought the location perfect because of its close proximity to the onsite playground, sports fields, and the Lymes Senior Center, making the garden accessible to all ages in both towns.
In March 2021, Jim held a Zoom meeting open to all residents to plan the food bank community garden at Town Woods Park. The goal would be to provide fresh produce to help alleviate food insecurities and support healthy nutrition to families in Old Lyme, Lyme, and surrounding communities.
That Zoom meeting resulted in a handful of volunteers ready to take on Jim’s challenge. The rest of 2021 was spent raising money, building garden fencing, and preparing the soil. In 2022, their first growing season, the Food Share Garden logged more than 700 hours of volunteers’ time in producing and donating over 2500 pounds of fresh produce to the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries, and the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut.
During this past year’s second growing season, Jim’s leadership contributed to 31 volunteers logging over 1000 hours, again producing more than 2500 pounds of produce, and converting over a thousand pounds of food waste to compost for next year’s garden.
Still in just its second growing season, the Lyme-Old Lyme Food Share Garden was one of three giving gardens to receive the Innovation Award from the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut.
Liz Rubitski, has volunteered with Jim and the LOLFSG for three years and says it’s been an absolute pleasure. She goes on to say “Jim’s leadership style is impressive. He balances inclusivity with decision making so that everyone stays focused and this results in accomplishing tasks efficiently with high quality. This can be seen with how far the garden has come in just 3 years. In addition to board leadership his hands-on work ethic is inspiring, he literally never shies away from getting his hands dirty.” Liz concludes with “and as if that wasn’t enough, Jim is fun to be around!”
Peter Hunt who serves on the Board of Directors for the Lyme Old Lyme Food Share Garden was happy to share that, “Jim is a down to earth guy with a great idea and the drive to realize it. Jim is a good leader in that he can set an agenda but be flexible and a good listener. He shares decision making and credit for accomplishments. He really works year-round on the garden and is there early and stays late during the season.”
From the beginning, Jim’s holistic thinking for the garden included not just growing vegetables, but also ensuring the garden was healthy through pollination and compost initiatives. Early in the planning process Jim reached out to Pollinate Old Lyme to promote the future food share garden as a public pollinator garden where people could visit and see what a pollinator meadow looks like. Cheryl Poirier, a co-leader of Pollinate Old Lyme said, “Jim reached out to us as soon as the Town Woods property was secured to talk about supporting a pollinator meadow. Suzanne Thompson and I stood with Jim out amidst a tangle of invader species and the occasional native plant and heard Jim’s vision for not only the vegetable garden that would support food banks, but also for a pollinator garden that would attract the butterflies and bees that would naturally pollinate the proposed vegetable plants. That February afternoon in 2021 it was clear there was still a long way to go, including building his team. But you look at that garden today with the adjacent pollinator meadow of native asters, milkweed, rudbeckia, and more, and you think wow, here is someone who can make things happen.”
Suzanne Thompson added, “Jim Ward is visionary, pragmatic, and resourceful. He is a quiet source of inspiration and has a can-do attitude. He accomplishes big things. We are fortunate to have Jim and his wife Sheila living in town.”
Jim also serves our town as co-chair of the Solid Waste and Recycling Committee. Although this committee doesn’t have the most glamorous of names, we rely on them for policy recommendations and opportunities to reduce the Town’s trash, which is not just important for our environment but also for our taxpayers’ wallets. One important way to reduce trash is to encourage our residents to compost their food waste. Jim’s enthusiasm for nature’s way of recycling led to his creation of a pilot composting program in his Library Lane neighborhood. Just this summer, the neighborhood collected over 700 pounds of food waste for composting. As Suzanne Thompson added, “Jim is showing the rest of us that yes, we can do this.”
And stay tuned, this committee is working to bring us closer to better composting options for all our residents.
Jim will always be the first to give others credit and there are many people who have become involved in these projects whether making financial donations or digging in the dirt. But the success of any volunteer endeavor depends on someone who can provide enthusiasm, guidance, and recognition to others. Jim’s neighbors Christine and Tom Gotowka said, “We are impressed that he always acknowledges the role of his core team and the large cadre of volunteers in what has certainly been a successful endeavor that has reflected well on our community.”
And as Peter Hunt further shared, ” Old Lyme is blessed to have the nonprofit sector and schools that it does, but the blessing would not be possible without the contributions and leadership of folks like Jim.”
Growing, Caring, Sharing. These are the guiding words of the Lyme-Old Lyme Food Share Garden. These three words also represent why the Board of Selectmen is happy to present Mr. Jim Ward with the 2023 Citizen of the Year award.
Shoemaker concluded, “Jim, I am sure your family, friends, and your fellow citizens of Old Lyme, will join me in thanking you for not just thinking about solutions for food insecurity and environmental issues, but for also taking action and bringing the rest of us along for the ride. Congratulations Jim!”
Editor’s Note: We add our own hearty congratulations to Jim — such a well-deserved award for a truly remarkable man. Well done, Jim!