By Alison Marchione, Programs Director
On Tuesday October 27th it was cold. The ground and grass were wet, and I had soaked through my gloves pulling storage carrots out of the ground and then frozen my hands as we packed kale into bags to deliver to Willing Hands after the volunteer day.
It was uncomfortable, but it didn’t really matter because this was our final harvest from the Brookmead Food Pantry Garden for the year. Today was the day we would find out just how many pounds of fresh, nutritious veggies we had grown and donated over the course of the season. I couldn’t wait to get to that scale.
This year, in response to the pandemic and the growing need for food resources for those who are food insecure in our communities, UVLT decided to drastically expand our food pantry garden at the Brookmead Conservation Area from 1/8th of an acre to 3/4ths of an acre – the entire tillable area of the field the garden is located in. Our garden was first started in 2019 as a way to continue our mission of bringing people together to conserve land that makes our communities more resilient, healthy, and sustainable for all. In 2020 we had the opportunity to really show those values.
I am not a farmer. I am a halfway decent back yard gardener with a mostly hypothetical understanding of agriculture. Expanding the garden was a challenge for me because I hadn’t planned for it and anyone who knows me knows I love a good plan. But, once more unto the breach, as they say. We bought more seeds, tilled more land, and got ready for a whirlwind of a year.
I knew going into this that more than anything else we would need a cadre of dedicated volunteers to make this project successful. I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough volunteers, or that people wouldn’t feel comfortable being there together, even with our covid precautions. As spring warmed up and the time to begin was upon us, I put out feelers via listservs and our enews and waited to see what would happen.
I needn’t have worried. From requests for rhubarb plants and wheelbarrows, to calls for volunteers, the community answered my calls with gusto. When I needed rhubarb plants to start a perennial bed I was given 50 plants – literally more than I could use (with the excess going to Willing Hands for their own garden).Two wheelbarrows and a garden cart were donated to us making moving tools and veggies around the garden much more simple. And the volunteers came out in droves. It is really to them that I am the most grateful. I am paid to do this work and I love to do it, but to see people come back week after week in the boiling heat of this summer, to weed onions or pull off potato beetles really is amazing. They are the ones who grew all these vegetables. I just made the plan.
From peas and radishes in the spring, to potatoes, winter squash, carrots, and kale we made beds, planted, tended, and harvested 8 different crops and in the end donated over 3,500 pounds of fresh veggies to Willing Hands, creating 15,408 additional servings of vegetables for hungry people in the Upper Valley.