Ellena here, reporting on behalf of the Giving Garden and the vibrant and abundant 2019 growing season that has just come to an end!
With the help of volunteers, gardeners, students, and staff we’ve finally put the garden to bed for the winter. The garlic is tucked safely underground, the cover crop is rooting into the soil, acting as a thick blanket to protect the soil from damage and erosion. The straw and leaf mulches are also protecting any bare soil, retaining the soil moisture, and holding the garden with care until spring.
As I am reflecting on the season, I can’t help but give thanks first and foremost to our amazing community of volunteers who came out to the garden week in and week out. From April 24th to November 5 we held volunteer days at the garden- including work parties and workshops. Over the course of the season we had 116 volunteers who spent over 500 hours making the Giving Garden grow! We couldn’t have done it without you all.
The Giving Garden was true to its name this year and we donated over 7,800 pounds of fresh, high-quality organic produce to local meal sites and food pantries in Northampton and Easthampton. This year we worked with the same community partners as previous years, and we also began new collaborations with various organizations.
The season began last January when we were graciously awarded a 3 year grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation to continue the Giving Garden with renewed efforts in community building and volunteer participation. Thank you Harvard Pilgrim! I was delighted to serve again as the manager of the Giving Garden, this time as a full-time staff member. I took my previous years worth of experience into consideration, and consulted with the directors and managers of our partner meal-sites and food pantries to adjust my crop plan accordingly to best meet the needs of clients and participants.
After much winter planning and seed ordering, we worked with Sawmill Herb Farm to grow all of our plant seedlings right on our Grow Food Northampton Community Farm land. It was the nicest commute from the seedling greenhouse to the Giving Garden with the farm cart.
As it became warmer, the garden became a bustling hub of activity. In late May and early June we hosted 26 class field trips from 6 different local public schools to tour the community garden and work with me to mulch, weed, and add compost in the Giving Garden.
We organized and held three workshops on soil health, mushroom cultivation and no-till farming in our efforts to educate ourselves and our community about regenerative and climate resilient agriculture. We planted asparagus and strawberries, investing in future harvests of high quality produce for years to come. We saw our first shiitake mushroom logs bare fruit- a result of last year’s spring mushroom workshop. (It takes a whole year for mushroom logs to begin producing! )
We had a great group of summer college interns, and we couldn’t have done it without them either! Sawyer Blake and Kiehl Jones were primarily in the Giving Garden. Anna Rosen worked in the garden and at the Neighborhood Markets, and Charlie Henzel joined us for a second year to work on communications and took many of the great photos of our Giving Garden workshops.
Over the course of the season we almost always delivered our produce on the same day that it was harvested, one of us driving around town in our friendly navy-blue Grow Food Northampton van to Star Light Center, Manna Soup Kitchen, Northampton Survival Center, Easthampton Community Center, First Churches Farm Cart, CSO and Abundance Farm twice a week on our delivery days.
This year we began to collaborate with Abundance Farm to serve five delicious and well-attended community lunches as part of their summer teen program. Teens harvested produce from the Giving Garden during our morning volunteer hours and cooked meals for the community. From cob oven pizza to greek salad and pasta with pesto, they made amazing recipes, and we all enjoyed the bounty of the summer together.
In the late summer we said goodbye to our college interns, and finished out the season with final harvests of root crops and storage cabbage with our newest teammate, TerraCorps Service Member Melissa Ward. We planted our garlic that we have been saving for many years. For cover crop we planted oats, peas, radishes and winter rye. We lay down straw and leaves in the pathways to build soil and organic matter for the next season.
Now is time to rest and soon we will begin again to dream about what the next year will bring.