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Newton hanging tomato garden finds a new home -- at theological school

Posted by Deidre Fernandes  June 1, 2012 12:06 PM

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Divine intervention has rescued Newton’s wayward hanging tomato garden.

Newton city officials had warned Eli Katzoff - the creative force behind the 13-foot tall hanging tomato garden - that he had to start removing the structure from his front yard near Route 9 by Friday.

Late on Thursday, Katzoff landed a new home for his garden: the Andover Newton Theological School.

“We wanted to find something that really worked for us,” Katzoff said. “It’s in a place that’s very safe.”

The graduate divinity school has volunteered a sunny spot near its chapel for Katzoff’s A-frame structure and the 34 red containers sprouting tomatoes.

“Who can be against tomatoes?” asked Nick Carter, the president of Andover Newton. “Institutions should be helping people do the right thing.”

The school has a student garden on campus and Katzoff’s project should fit right in, Carter said.

It won’t disrupt the neighborhood and shouldn’t run afoul of any Newton zoning laws, Carter said.

“It’s not going to bother anybody where it is,” he said.

Katzoff, who is staying at his parents’ house near Route 9, built the wood structure a few weeks ago. He wanted to grow tomatoes in the sun-soaked front yard, but didn’t want to disrupt his father’s existing garden.

Using 16-foot wood beams and with the help of his friends and girlfriend, Katzoff built what looks like an oversized swing set frame. He started to sell some of the tomato containers to his neighbors and friends who wanted fresh tomatoes during the season and decided that he would donate the rest to food pantries. Katzoff, 26, created a website for his endeavor and as a promotional filmmaker, he began documenting the work.

The only thorn in this garden?

Newton’s zoning laws bar such accessory structures in the front yard for safety and aesthetic reasons.

In the past week, Newton officials issued Katzoff a notice of violation and told him to make plans for a move by Friday. They also offered him three alternative sites on city properties.

“We’re not trying to tamp him down,” Bob Rooney, the city chief operating officer said earlier this week. “We’re trying to let him experiment.”

Katzoff said he appreciates the city’s help but he was concerned about the safety of the plants at some of the sites. Instead, he and his girlfriend Melissa Hoffman approached Andover Newton for help. Hoffman attends Hebrew College, next to the theological school.

“There was never a moment’s hesitation,” Carter said. “They’re caught on the down side of zoning.”

Now the only question left is how to move those upside-down tomatoes plants a mile up the road to the school.

Katzoff is confident that it will work out. He hasn’t ruled out grabbing friends and volunteers to walk the buckets to Andover Newton.

“It’s kind of corny to say,” Katzoff said. “But it’s a happy ending.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com

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