March 11, 2010

Growing their own

MELANIE CREAMER

— By

Staff Writer

Saint Joseph's College and its food vendor, Bon Appetit, have teamed up to plant a garden that will grow food for the college dining hall and donate fresh vegetables to Catherine's Cupboard Food Pantry in Standish. The yearlong pilot project is designed to educate students on methods of organic gardening and sustainable agriculture and teach children about gardening.

''This has been a dream of mine,'' said Michial Russell, the farm manager and a volunteer at the food pantry. ''One of our goals is to get healthy food back into the hands of people who don't have access to it. People are tremendously grateful when they have access to these fresh foods. Maybe it will help a promote a healthy lifestyle and inspire people to rethink the ways they shop and eat.''

The Pearson Town Farming Project kicked off May 30. Roughly 50 people in the community came to learn about organic gardening.

Russell, along with college interns and community volunteers, planted more than 1,000 seedlings in addition to some seeds on 3 acres of land owned by the college across from the main campus. A local resident has also donated a piece of land that's used to grow squash, onions and sweet potatoes.

The garden is expected to produce a variety of vegetables such as zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and salad greens. Participants in the project also plan to raise free-range turkeys. Their growing season will extend into the winter months with the use of greenhouses.

Stuart Leckie, Bon Appetit's general manager, said his company is dedicated to sustainable agriculture and promoting locally grown food to reduce the carbon footprint of long-distance food distribution.

''I really feel this is the beginning of something,'' Leckie said. ''All the food purchased from the garden will save us from having to purchase these items from our local purveyor.

''Often we're not sure where the items come from and what practices are being used. This will certainly cut down carbon miles and allow us to have an organic product that we know has been grown in a sustainable fashion.''

Five summer interns -- three from Saint Joseph's College and two from Wesleyan University -- are creating a business plan to use as a model for other schools to incorporate their initiative.

''I think as we move forward 10 years from now, most schools and colleges will have their own garden in some fashion,'' Leckie said. ''This may be a partnership with a local farm or the college doing it themselves. Many schools have such a poor, unhealthy lunch program, and the trend is slowly happening to change that.''

A small ''kinder-garden'' was created on the land to teach kids about farming. The next meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, where organizers will read in the garden and kids can play gardening games.

''Some of these kids have never been on a field,'' Leckie said.

''It's exciting to get this fresh food from the farm to the cafeteria. We want to bring farming back and prove that it can work.''

A share of the produce will go to the food pantry in Standish, which was started by the college last year. The pantry has roughly 215 clients and serves an estimated 90 clients a month.

Antoinette Tarbell, a volunteer at the food pantry, is now helping to help grow some of the food that will end up there. Tarbell said the donations of fresh produce are very important to the clients they serve.

''Many families are struggling in so many ways,'' she said. ''We all know that sometimes fresh produce can be expensive. It might be an area where people will cut back because the price are so high. The food they will be growing will go right from the farm to the clients. We hope this will be a big help to them.''

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com

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