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October 3, 2012

Local food pantries reap rewards of community gardeners

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

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The Executive Committee members that lead Crittenton’s Employee Unlimited Potential group stand in front of their plot in the Rochester Community Garden, where they grow produce to donate to local food pantries.

ROCHESTER — Now in its second year, the Rochester Community Garden continues to help build community in Rochester.

The Community Garden, created in an underutilized space in Scott Street Park last year, started as a collaborative effort between Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve, the city of Rochester and the City Beautiful Commission. Since the organic garden opened, more than 42 people have leased plots, which are managed by Dinosaur Hill.

“In our original conversations, we all hoped that this would not only be a place where someone could garden, but also a place where we could start to build community,” said Sue Neal, executive director of Dinosaur Hill.

Though some people used the garden to grow food for their tables at home, all gardeners are encouraged to dedicate part of their crops to the Rochester Area Neighborhood House Community Food Pantry and the Rochester Community House’s monthly Community Kitchen Dinner. Although organizers have no official numbers on how much produce has been harvested to date, they said the organic garden has grown lots of tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, squash, eggplants, tomatillos, beans and more.

The growing of produce for donation to local food pantries was an important component of the project from the beginning, Neal said.

“This being the second year of the garden, operations were more routine, so we were able to do some more outreach, in terms of linking service groups and individuals with the food pantries,” she added.

This spring, all of the garden plots were reserved, so the garden was full when organizers were contacted by the Crittenton Hospital Employee Unlimited Potential Group, the employee giving club of hospital, stating they were interested in raising produce to donate to the RANH Community Food Pantry.

After learning about the project, Rochester City Council member Steve Sage agreed to donate his garden plot for the club to use. Crittenton’s cardiopulmonary services manager and Employee Unlimited Potential Group chairman Bernie Hung said Fogler’s Greenhouse and Bordine’s donated green pepper and tomato plants to the group for the project.

“We did all this with a donated plot and vegetables. Dinosaur Hill does a great job of providing all the necessary items, such as dirt, fertilizer and water, so all we had to do was plant them, water them, maintain the plot, pick the vegetables off and deliver them to the food pantry, which we split among our group of 12 members,” he said.

This whole idea, according to Hung, was to give back to the community. Next year, Hung said, the group hopes to expand the program and get more hospital employees involved.

“We want to take care of our community … and help try to provide some food to the food pantry and the people they serve in the community,” he said. “We did get some feedback from that food pantry saying they really do appreciate all the food coming in from all of the gardeners involved in the Community Garden.”

Since the garden opened, several other groups have cultivated their entire Rochester Community Garden plot to raise food to donate to local food pantries, including Mitchell’s Fish Market, West Middle School and Cadette Girl Scout Troop 40214. Neal said many individual gardeners also donate extra produce from their plots to a crate that garden volunteer Tracy Mitton collects and delivers to the local pantries once a week.

“We hope that not only we will continue the established relationship that we have with Crittenton, but also Mitchell’s Fish Market, West and Cadette Girl Scout Troop 40214, and we’re hoping that other businesses and service organizations will step up and support the project. We also hope that all of our participating community gardeners will continue to donate their surplus produce to the food pantries, and we will continue to do everything that we can to help those projects,” Neal said.

For more information about the garden, contact garden@dinosaurhill.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at malmond@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1060.