Archive for the ‘Community Gardens’ Category

2017 Community Service 3rd Place – The Barn’s CommUnity Garden, Lehigh/Northampton Counties, PA

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

You might think that a garden program about community gardening would be about how, when and why you should plant particular crops. But, this program involves using gardening as a means to build bridges in our community for the well-being

whole groupof our community. When one contemplates the homeless, our veterans, and food insufficiency in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, it is life changing when those who are able become positive social change agents. My name is Dr. Robert Yoder and I have sought to be socially conscious of my neighbor far and wide serving as a short term missionary dentist in Honduras for six years, building homes on the Gulf coast post Katrina and  in a variety of short term mission trips but I felt this subtle tug that I should be doing more locally. I thought perhaps as a Penn State Master Gardener, I could weave my skill set and invite others to join me in community gardening. So seven years ago, I began to recruit volunteers and found the Christian community “The Barn”, currently worshipping at Swain School, willing to rise to the challenge.

The initiative began with a simple wonderment: “Could we create a community garden that intentionally brought people together to grow food for the hungry in our community?” Even better, “Could recipients of the food grown, participate in the very garden that benefitted them?” We began with 2 plots graciously donated by Lower Macungie Township. Three additional Master Gardeners and 40 volunteers of all experience levels signed up to help and learn. Immediately, friendships developed, fun ensued, and the satisfaction of walking alongside our neighbor, revealed we were onto something bigger than ourselves. The produce from the first year was modest in pounds (around 500 lbs.), but the community that was being built, both in the garden and reaching into center city Allentown was beyond description.

Fast forward six years and we now have 7 garden plots with active material and monetary support from our major donor, Home Depot, and  additional financial support from Tractor Supply, Emmaus Borough, The Muslim Assoc. of the Lehigh Valley, Wal-Mart, The Barn Community, Lower Macungie Township planting with the kidsand the Master Gardeners of the Lehigh Valley. In addition, we now have broader community involvement  including 7 worshipping communities and over 175 volunteers. Leadership is provided by 11 Master gardeners assigned to each of the gardens.

The 2016  initiative  included involving our veterans who too often have lost meaning in life and we find some aiml s and  homeless. Also consider, in 2012 the Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a study which discovered for 10 years running, there was an average of 18-22 veteran suicides per day in the United States. Can we use the community garden to give them a way of engaging community that offers new purpose? Additionally, we were broadening efforts of interfaith cooperation by involving Muslims, Christians and Jews, all working together in the garden to show the world a better way forward. To that end, we now have the Jewish temples Beth El and Kenneseth Israel, the Christian churches “The Barn” and “Life Church” of Nazareth along with two Muslim worshipping communities at “Muslim Assoc. of the Lehigh Valley” and  a young vital Muslim community in Alburtis all working together, building community and growing vegetables.

Last year we raised almost 4500 lbs. of fresh produce which now benefits two Lehigh Conference of Church’s social outreach ministries: DayBreak and the Soup Kitchen at 8twith tthe participantsh and Walnut Street. We hope with continued growth to make a greater impact.

Looking ahead , 2017 has more new initiatives including new involvement of a Sikh community to broaden our community building. Second, we are trying to incorporate the youth of each of these worshipping communities in three exciting ways. In Spring, in a round table sharing format, we plan to have a youth program including a potluck meal of foods of each community’s ethnic background, seedling starting, a time of sharing their favorite religious foods and holidays in their traditions. This in an effort to teach tolerance and appreciation  of the other at a young age. In Summer, we will have a week of youth involvement in direct garden care. Adult mentors will work side by side with the youth to teach gardening skills.  In Fall, in correlation with the Jewish holiday Sukkot, we will initiate a gleaning project at “The Seed Farm” with kids working side by side with folks from the center city, the very people all the garden goods go to help with the food insecurity of the Lehigh Valley.

Logistically, a typical growing season would begin with willing volunteers raising seedlings like tomatoes, peppers and broccoli starting in late February. This group of seedling growers includes folks from the center city to the suburbs. It gives the wonder of spring early to families with young children and the homeless that find shelter at DayBreak. They maintain and grow the seedlings to maturity, then help in the transplanting in one of the seven community gardens when winter finally gives up its grip in mid-May.

Weekly teams of volunteers then tend, harvest, laugh, test out a sugar pea or two and take pictures of the produce being grown. All through the process a more important thing is happening: community is being knit into a beautiful tapestry. We are working side by side to make a positive difference in our community. You know you have struck a beautiful chord when in one hand you have the day’s harvest and in the other you are hugging a new found friend who comes from a completely different life situation than you do. Imagine a Jewish woman with kids working side by side with a Muslim woman’s kids. We have indeed grown CommUnity and the forecast for this year’s growing season is one full of love and care for neighbor. We are showing the world a better way forward.

                                                                                                out in the garden workingthe producegiving instructions

2014 CenUSA Bioenergy Project

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Fond du Lac Community Master Gardeners contribute to CenUSA biochar research and teach kids about growing food, too. 

Welcome back for more of our ongoing coverage of how University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners have been helping to support biochar research as part of the CenUSA Bioenergy project. For our last blog post, Extension Master Gardener Meleah Maynard talked with volunteers at Minnesota’s three CenUSA biochar test sites in the Twin Cities metro area: at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus and in Andover at the Extension County and Regional Center, about their experiences working on the project.

This time, you’ll hear what Extension Master Gardener volunteers working on the Fond du Lac tribal community demonstration garden at the Brookston Community Center in Cloquet had to say when Meleah visited last month. To learn more about things like what biochar is and how the test sites were chosen and planted, check out past blog posts written by Extension Master Gardener Lynne Hagen, the project manager for the biochar demonstration gardens in Minnesota. Read on to find out how things are going at the Fond du Lac biochar demonstration garden.

A Community Garden

October 2014

While the Fond du Lac demonstration garden shares the same layout, plants and mission as the three other Minnesota sites, it is different. Instead of being on a campus or other site with ties to the University, it is tucked next to a community center where it can easily be viewed by people of all ages anytime.

Better still, because of its location, children who visit the community center have been able to learn about gardening from Master Gardener volunteers, and find out more about where food comes from in the process. The kids also like eating the vegetables once they’ve been harvested and weighed. Master Gardeners make sure the kids eat only from the control plot that contains no biochar since the soil amendment is still being tested.

Dawn Newman, a Master Gardener and the Fond du Lac site mentor, says the biochar research project has been a positive way to foster a connection between the community and the University. Currently the American Indian Community Vitality Educator for Extension, Newman is an enrolled Ho-Chunk member from Wisconsin and has worked with the Fond du Lac community for years in various roles.

“It takes a long time to build relationships in Indian Country,” she says. “Historically, research has been done on Native Americans without their knowledge and not with true partnership in mind. This project is giving the community a chance to do real research as well as helping to foster healthier eating habits.” Julie Weisenhorn, an associate extension professor in horticulture and Master Gardener who has helped coordinate efforts at the site, agrees.

“Using gardening as a mean of collaboration is a great, fun way to bring the Fond du Lac community and the University together on a project,” she says. “We’ve talked a lot about how to meet community needs while also meeting the needs of Extension education because having a real partnership is so critical.”

Digging In

Newman is one of six Master Gardeners on the Fond du Lac reservation. She started the group four years ago after approaching Weisenhorn, then state program director, with the idea of starting their own community-based group rather than joining the county group. “I explained that we are a sovereign nation so we should be recognized as our own ‘county’,” Newman recalls. Weisenhorn had been looking for the opportunity to pilot a community-based Master Gardener group, so she jumped at the chance to work with Newman on this new way to organize volunteers. Newman and the other five women who wanted to become Master Gardeners took the core course together. Once they completed their volunteer hours, they jumped into projects centered around the Fond du Lac Reservation with Brookston Community Center, one of three centers operated by the Band, being the main volunteer site.

Weisenhorn asked the new Fond du Lac volunteers to become the fourth Minnesota biochar site. Once a sunny site in front of the Center was chosen, the biochar demonstration garden was prepared and planted in 2013, the second year of the research project. At first, the plants seemed to be doing well—or at least as well as expected in the sandy soil the site had to offer. “Plants were small, but the garden looked beautiful,” Master Gardener Danielle Diver remembers. One thing that was obvious, she says, was that the test plot with the most biochar added seemed to be retaining water better than the other two plots.

Soon, though, the deer moved in and started eating the plants to the point where they needed to put up a fence. But as soon as posts started going in, they hit something hard about a foot below the soil. “It was a cement slab,” Newman recalls, “and we found out we were growing a garden where a house used to be.” So Bryan Bosto, the director of the Brookston Community Center, along with Weisenhorn, Newman, Diver and other volunteers, decided to replant in a different location the following spring.

Getting Kids Involved

Planting Day June 10, 2014

Planting Day June 10, 2014

With help from Weisenhorn, who drove up this spring with all the needed plants and supplies to start again, the group tilled and planted a new demonstration garden, this time next to the Center’s playground.

Though the move put them further behind other sites in terms of data collection, the garden was now much more visible to the kids, many of whom were already participating in the Junior Master Gardener program that Newman and the others had started a couple of years earlier. “It’s a great location for a garden, really quite beautiful,” Weisenhorn says. “I’m so proud of these gardeners and their determination to see this project through.”

Diver, who is also the garden program coordinator at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School, enjoys working with the kids in the garden. “They help us weed and water, especially early in the season,” she says. “You think they’re not really paying attention when you talk about the plants, but then they’ll ask a question that lets you know they were listening.”

Inspired by the children’s interest in the ripening vegetables in the demonstration garden, Diver and the other Master Gardeners added Food of the Week to their Junior Master Gardener lineup. Each week, kids work together with the Master Gardeners to prepare a dish using fresh vegetables.

Salsa was a big hit recently, even with those who said they don’t like tomatoes. “The impact we’re having doesn’t always show immediately, but when you see the kids in January and they say, ‘Hey, when is Garden Club (the kids’ name for the Junior Master Gardener program) going to start up again?’ you know they’re missing it and they clearly enjoy it,” Diver says.

Gathering Data

October 2014

October 2014

This will be the first full season of data collection at the Fond du Lac demonstration gardens and as with the other three Minnesota sites, there have been some challenges learning how to measure growth and track observations. But overall, the Fond du Lac Master Gardeners are feeling good about their work on the project and are looking forward to participating again next year.

“Seeing how the plants and soil have responded to biochar has been exciting and it’s nice to see that there is an amendment that might work,” says Nikki Crowe, a Master Gardener who also coordinates the Thirteen Moons Program,

October 2014

October 2014

which helps strengthen connections between Fond du Lac Band members and the surrounding community with Ojibwe culture and natural resources.

While the kids aren’t involved in the data collection process at the garden, they have helped out with planting and harvesting, and they’re also asked for their opinions on how things are doing in each of the three test plots. “We like to have them make their own observations on which plot is doing better or which vegetables they think look healthier or larger, and they really like that,” says Master Gardener Shannon Judd, who is also the environmental education and outreach coordinator for the Fond du Lac reservation.

Like Crowe, Judd is enjoying working on the project because it’s been interesting and exciting to be involved with a research endeavor of this magnitude from the start. In July, Judd and Newman, along with 30 other University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners involved in the research at other sites, attended the annual CenUSA conference held at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The meeting’s focus was on the Extension objective of the grant, and Weisenhorn was glad they were able to attend. “The CenUSA attendees recognized the volunteers at the meeting and applauded their important contribution to the project,” she recalls.

Judd is hopeful that the research results will make a meaningful difference for home gardeners, including those facing tough soil conditions like they have on the reservation. “Seeing all of the things that biochar may be useful for has been really motivating,” she says. “Anything that can be done to help people grow food more easily, especially around here, would be great.”

Note: CenUSA Bioenergy is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Celebrating Food Day Oct. 24th, 2014

Friday, October 24th, 2014

It’s Food Day! Visit a farmer’s market today or a community garden or go gleaning in a field for a local food pantry. Today it’s all about food – what we eat, how we grow it, prepare it, preserve it and eat it and how that relates to our overall health  – ours and our children’s.

 Food Day Focus on Children’s Diets

One of the important focuses of Food Day is children’s diets. Many of us volunteer at school gardens and know how important it is to teach children how to make healthy choices and for them to know where their food actually comes from – not from the store but from the dirt! On average, kids get over a quarter of their calories from snacks daily.  That wouldn’t be so bad if the snacks were more healthful, but cookies, cakes, chips, candy, and sugary drinks top the list of popular choices. You can check out an informative infographic to learn more about children’s diets in the US and to how it’s related to illnesses in their lives today.

The American Diet: Prescription for Ill Health

What adults are consuming is important too because they do the shopping and plan the meals for their families and set the stage for a life time of food habits. CSPI, the sponsor of Food Day, prepared a brief analysis of the average American adult diet and its relationship to their health. If you’re volunteering in a community garden teaching people to grow, harvest, cook and preserve food, you’re helping them attain a healthier happier life style. Master Gardeners are changing the world they live in by creating healthier futures for everyone.

Onion Flowering (photo submitted by Connie Schultz)

Onion Flowering (photo submitted by Connie Schultz)

 

To celebrate Food Day today, I thought it might be fun to take a quick food quiz. Just click on the link below and see how you do!

 

14 Questions that Could
Save Your Life and the Planet

 

Submitted by Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC

Food Day Oct. 24th, Preparation Day!

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Getting ready for Food Day? Take the Food Literacy quiz to get ready!

Food Literacy •  noun •  füd ˈli-t(ə-)rə-sē
Understanding the story of one’s food, from farm to table and back to the soil; the knowledge and ability to make informed choices that support one’s health, community, and the environment.

8,000 Events Being Held Across the Country

Food Day was created to inspire people to change their diets for the better. This year over 8,000 events are being held across the country to support issues like health, nutrition, and sustainability:

  • National Geographic will host a Food Day Harvest Festival on Saturday, October 25.
  • In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick is inviting consumers, farmers and ranchers, fishermen, social justice advocates, and other stakeholders to the State House on Food Day to learn more about a new Massachusetts Food Systems Plan. “Our communities are healthier when families have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy, whole foods,” said Governor Patrick.
  • New York City is getting ready for its third annual Big Apple Crunch.  They’re hoping to break last year’s record of 1 million people taking part.  All the kids in NYC schools will get an apple on Food Day!

These are only a few of the thousands of events going on tomorrow. Hopefully, as an Extension Master Gardener, you’ll play an important part by helping someone learn to grow, harvest, prepare or preserve vegetables this week!

Arcimboldovertemnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo,

Arcimboldovertemnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo,
c. 1590-1591 (from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)

 

Submitted by Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC

 

Research Experience, Wasp Nests, Teamwork and Sprinklers Gone Wild

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Three years on, Master Gardeners talk about the rewards and challenges of volunteering at Minnesota’s three CenUSA biochar test sites

It’s been a while since we offered an update on the CenUSA biochar demonstration gardens. As you may already know, there are four sites in Minnesota: at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus, in Andover at the Extension regional center, and at the Brookston Community Center in the Fond du Lac tribal community (Cloquet).

Bio char  Arboretum plot3

U of MN Extension BioChar Project

Extension Master Gardeners have been helping support biochar research at each site since 2012 as part of the larger CenUSA Bioenergy project. Ken Moore at Iowa State University and staff are leading a team of eight institutions that are participating in the five-year, USDA-sponsored CenUSA project. The goal is to investigate the creation of a Midwestern sustainable biofuels and bioenergy products system. (To learn more, check out the 2012 CenUSA Bioenergy Overview YouTube video.)

For this post, we asked Extension Master Gardener Meleah Maynard to write about what it’s been like to volunteer at the metro sites for the past three seasons. In her next post, she’ll turn the spotlight on the Fond du Lac volunteers. Meleah talked with Lynne Hagen, project coordinator for the University of Minnesota Extension biochar demonstration gardens, and Master Gardener volunteers who are currently serving as leaders at each of the sites about their experiences—positive, negative and everything in between. Here’s what they had to say.

Trial and Error

Lynne had never heard of biochar when she went to the initial CenUSA Bioenergy Project meeting at Iowa State University. But once she saw the depth of the project, she remembers thinking that it seemed like an exciting research project to be involved with. “So I put my Extension hat on and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m in!’” Three years later, she feels even more passionate about the project, which focuses on helping to answer the question of whether biochar could be a good soil amendment for use in home gardens.

Lynne has also learned, through trial and error, what it takes to engage and motivate 50 frontline volunteers. And she does that while working closely with everyone to ensure the gardens’ success and the collection of the most accurate data possible “Our project is not hard science,” she told me. “It’s more observational, and instructions for planting, maintaining plants and collecting data can be subjective in terms of how things are interpreted. Kind of like judging an art show.”

By that she means Master Gardeners must do their best to record their observations of the three plots at each site: the control plot with no biochar added, treatment plot 1 with ½ pound of biochar per square foot added and treatment plot 2 with 1 pound of biochar per square foot added. How much did the biochar appear to improve soil structure? Did the vegetables and flowers in the biochar plots do better or worse than those in the control plot? What impact could the weather be having on the data? What differences can be seen between the sites with silt loam soil and those with sandy soil?

Working Out the Details

Data collection processes have been continually streamlined throughout the project, and things are running more and more smoothly over time. Sandra Shill, who co-leads the Arboretum site with Mary Burchette, remembers the first year was especially difficult because everyone was trying to understand how to do everything and do it in the same ways. “Measuring plants sounds simple, but measurements have to be taken in specific ways so there were a lot of nuances to work out,” Sandra says.

For example, she recalls her husband, who went with her to tend to the plot one day, wondering aloud whether she was really supposed to stretch the prickly cucumber vines out straight when taking measurements. She was. But were volunteers supposed to flatten plant leaves out completely when measuring leaf width? Yes. Thankfully, it’s much easier to determine the color of leaves (one of several indicators of plant health) thanks to a color guide that was introduced last season.

Challenges and Rewards

Sandra says she got involved with the biochar project because she grew up in Iowa and “things that make use of crops always attract my attention.” The possibility of using switch grass, corn stalks and leaves and other charred biomass as a soil amendment intrigued her. And like her co-leader, she’s enjoying the research aspect of the project, especially one that could potentially make a difference.

“It’s been rewarding to be involved in every stage of the project,” says Mary, who signed on because she’s always enjoyed science. “In the largest sense, every aspect of this project could have a positive impact on the environment and that’s been extremely rewarding.” That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges. Scheduling and coordinating volunteers is no easy job, and it’s hard to keep people motivated to continue weeding and picking insect pests off plants once the season starts winding down in August.

And yes, a volunteer once stepped in an anthill and got ants all over her feet and was hopping around until another quick-thinking volunteer turned the hose on her shoes. But, really, the Arboretum site is largely ideal—except for watering. Unlike other sites that have easy access to sprinklers, volunteers have to use a brass key to hook up to a nearby water source to get their sprinklers going. “If you don’t do it right, you get totally soaked,” Mary says, laughing.

U of MN BioChar Project - First Tomato Harvest

U of MN BioChar Project – First Tomato Harvest

Over at the St. Paul campus site, watering couldn’t be easier because the demonstration garden is equipped with programmable irrigation, says site leader Carol Skalko. Better still, because they’re on campus, they were fortunate the first year because University of Minnesota Extension Plant Pathologist Michelle Grabowski had a research plot right next to the test plot. “It was great because we could ask her questions about plant diseases whenever we needed to,” Carol recalls.

One of the things Carol likes best about being a Master Gardener volunteer is the social interaction with others who share her love of gardening. So she’s especially glad that scheduling has often worked out so that volunteers could work together as a group. “There’s a real sense of community at our site and that’s been significant for me,” she says, adding that everyone has particularly enjoyed getting to know Master Gardeners from other counties.

Like other site leaders, she appreciates how things have gotten easier and more understandable over time. But she continues to worry about making mistakes that could throw off the data: Like this year, when the lettuce crop was considered a failure because it didn’t germinate. “We ignored it because we thought it wasn’t being counted, but it turned out they did want us to collect data on that and I misunderstood,” Carol says.

Everybody Wins

Jeff Stahmann, who co-leads the Andover site with Dave Knapp, is a scientist and engineer who develops medical devices like pacemakers. It was the research aspect of the biochar project that drew him in. While most Master Gardeners are taking knowledge from University-based research and applying it, he likes that in this case, Master Gardeners are providing data for researchers to us. “It would be great if Master Gardeners could get involved in some way with more University-based research projects like this because everybody wins,” he says.
At the same time, as a scientist, he is keenly aware of the “enormous number of variables” that need to be considered when interpreting the data from a project like this: the quality of seeds, the sizes of seedlings, variable weather and different types of soil, to name a few. “It’s a very dynamic environment in which to work for all of us,” as he aptly puts it. And his words sound all the more charitable when you consider what volunteers have faced at the Andover site.
Situated on the Anoka sand plain, the Andover site is by all accounts the most challenging of the three metro-area sites—and not just because of the sandy soil. Unlike the other two metro demonstration gardens, which were established in areas with silt loam soil, this plot had to be carved out of an area of woods filled with underbrush and poison ivy, the latter of which continues to pop up in areas where the volunteers work occasionally. “And then there was the time that wasps got into our supply cabinet and built a nest that we had to get out of there,” Dave says, before adding that gophers have been a problem in past years too.
Even so, he thinks the positives of working on the biochar project always balance out the tough parts. Harvesting the crops is one of the processes Dave likes most because until you actually weigh the kale, Swiss chard, potatoes and other crops, you’ve only got a visual assessment of which crops did better than others in the different plots.
It’s nice too that volunteers get to take home herbs and vegetables once the data has been collected. “For me,” Dave says, “whether what we observe turns out to be of major or minor significance, having the chance to participate in the discovery process has been really rewarding for me.”
Note: CenUSA Bioenergy is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

 

2013 Search for Excellence Award Winners

Friday, June 27th, 2014
IMG Search for Excellence

International Master Gardener Search for Excellence Awards

On September 7, 2013 twenty one Search for Excellence Awards were presented at the International Master Gardener Conference 2013 (IMGC 2013), Cruise to Alaska Flowers, Fjords & Friends. Search for Excellence (SFE) is the recognition of outstanding projects by Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States and Canada. 2013 logo for IMGC

SFE Awards are presented every two years at the IMGC conference where Master Gardener volunteers, Extension staff and faculty gather to learn from each other, share projects and to network with their peers from around the world. Twenty one Master Gardener programs were recognized for their outstanding achievement from a field of seventy two applications, submissions from twenty six USA states and two Canadian provinces.

First, second and third place awards were presented in seven categories:

• Community Service
• Demonstration Gardens
• Innovative Projects
• Special Needs Audiences
• Research
• Workshop or Presentation
• Youth Programs

All SFE applications must show that significant learning took place. The SFE projects need to be ongoing projects for at least two years; one of the winners this year has been going on for twenty six years. The IMGC Committee judges the applications. Winning projects were chosen on the basis of their originality and creativity; practicality of the program; simplicity of replication by other Master Gardeners and their significant impact on their communities.

First place winners received a plaque and a small stipend to continue their educational projects. The twenty one awarded projects displayed posters of their projects at the IMGC 2013 conference. Congratulations to all the SFE awardees that are involved in these excellent projects.

Beginning in October and continuing over the next several months, this blog will feature stories and pictures from each 2013 Search for Excellence award winners. Watch for the upcoming postings  and read about these outstanding projects.

The 2015 SFE awards nominations will begin in September – to apply follow the links.

Written by: Patty Driscoll, 2013 SFE Chair

AmpleHarvest.org: Sharing Your Garden Bounty with Neighbors in Need

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

What has 180,000 hands and is changing the world? The Extension Master Gardeners of the USA! That’s how we at AmpleHarvest.org think of you—thousands of hands working in the soil, sharing valuable knowledge with growers in every corner of America, and changing the world one garden at a time!

AmpleHarvest.org is a national program, connecting gardeners with local food pantries so that excess garden bounty can be shared with those in need. Gardeners everywhere can use our site to find a pantry for those times when they just have too many greens or cucumbers (or any other extra veggies, fruits, herbs, or nuts).

Food Pantry volunteers, happy to receive donations of fresh food to share with their clients

Food Pantry volunteers, happy to receive donations of fresh food to share with their clients

We have nearly 7,000 food pantries registered on our site from every state. These are pantries that may not have the time or budget required to maintain a website or advertise their services online. For many pantries, their free profile on our site is the only web presence they have, and the only way that gardeners can find them when they have food to share.

We’ve got some exciting news! We’re celebrating our 5th birthday with a complete overhaul of our website. We will be adding new and exciting features to make it easier for gardeners and pantries to work together to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in America. We hope you’ll bookmark our page (AmpleHarvest.org) so you can see the new site when it’s up and let us know what you think.

If you’re growing food at home, helping in a community garden, or working with Plant-A-Row, we want our site to be another one of your gardening tools. Whenever someone asks us for gardening help, we send them your way and we hope that when you encounter someone whose gardening experiments yield too many tomatoes, you will send them our way so they can help feed a hungry family.

 

Harvest day at a community garden and this is just what was left over after the gardeners took their share! It all went straight to a pantry found on AmpleHarvest.org/findpantry.  Send photos of what you’re growing and sharing to ishared@ampleharvest.org

Harvest day at a community garden and this is just what was left over after the gardeners took their share! It all went straight to a pantry found on AmpleHarvest.org/findpantry. Send photos of what you’re growing and sharing to ishared@ampleharvest.org

Like us on Facebook and share our page with your gardening friends to help us spread the word. If you are already growing and sharing with a food pantry, share this blog with the pantry coordinator to encourage them to register on our site so that other gardeners can find them and donate their excess produce as well.

Thank you for teaching and leading by example. Thank you for keeping the knowledge of our national agricultural traditions alive in your communities. Thank you for changing the world.
Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org. She is a back (and front!) yard vegetable gardener and she has recently added a small flock of Buff Orpington hens to her tiny urban farm. You can reach her at Emily@ampleharvest.org

Using Your Observation Skills for Citizen Science

Friday, February 21st, 2014

IMG_0925Ever find yourself immersed in nature marveling, and suddenly questions begin to emerge? That’s the exciting thing about observing and being interested in science. Observations lead to a question, and more questions follow.

Observing is a critical skill to understanding the garden. Master Gardeners have honed observations skills through years of practice. Other skills include understanding life cycle timing, which species use the garden as a diverse ecosystem, scouting for beneficial species and those that are pests.

Your observation skills are valuable to scientists who need help answering research questions. You may be interested to know there are many ways you can apply your skills to benefit ongoing research. We call this “Public Participation in Scientific Research” (PPSR), a fast-growing field. It includes “citizen science, volunteer monitoring and … organized research in which members of the public engage in the process of scientific investigations: asking questions, collecting data, and/or interpreting results” (definition from Citizen Science Central, Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

PPSR and citizen science help create long-term, useable datasets. Having many observation points increases research capacity, depth and accuracy. It links research and community. And allows participants to increase observation and scientific literacy skills.

Photo credit: E. Alderson

Photo credit: E. Alderson

There are many citizen science programs, including everything from food, allergies, climate & weather, space exploration, the ocean, sounds, and transportation. No matter your interest there is likely a citizen science project. Some take a few minutes of time while others are ongoing and offer opportunities to analyze. Local groups may use citizen science to answer regional questions. And many such projects connect people with similar interests.

Some programs have been around for a while. The Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project between the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, began in 1999. It was one of the first online citizen science projects created to record and understand wild bird populations, displaying results in near real-time. http://gbbc.birdcount.org.

natures_notesbook_rgb_tagline_lrg Many projects share information that can help you, or your Extension Agent, answer local science questions. Benefit from using existing data to answer gardening questions and better understand what’s blooming, who is eating your tomatoes and when, and how certain plants respond to seasonal changes. Check out Nature’s Notebook, www.nn.usanpn.org, for examples and learn how scientists use observations to understand species response to climate change.

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, or MLMP, tracks declining monarch populations by recording density of milkweed and the monarch eggs and larvae. Information collected helps scientists understand how and why monarch populations vary and increases conservation and awareness. www.mlmp.org.

Interested in the night sky? There are a few projects that let you track light pollution (Dark Sky Meter, www.darkskymeter.com) or count the number of meteors (www.meteorcounter.com).

A great place to find projects is SciStarter, www.scistarter.com, with a listing of projects available by activity or topic of interest. The Scientific American website, http://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/, has a growing list of projects. A simple Google search on “citizen science” yields many valuable results.

Whether or not you choose to contribute to citizen science, be mindful that any observations you make are valuable. Use those to ask your own questions and make predictions based on evidence. The best thing we can do for ourselves is learning that observing is experiencing, and sharing those observations is even better! — Contributed by LoriAnne Barnett (Education Coordinator, USA-NPN) and Peter Warren (Pima County Arizona Horticulture Agent).

Hunger in Foodie Paradise

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Have you ever eaten a Maine lobster? Seen an award-winning Downeast chef on the Food Network? Or maybe you’ve visited a widely acclaimed Maine restaurant pioneering the farm-to-table concept. No question about it…Maine is a foodie paradise! But what you may not know is that it’s also a state facing significant food insecurity, especially among its youngest and oldest populations.

How U of Maine Cooperative Extension “Harvest for Hunger” is addressing hunger…

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Harvest for Hunger program’s mission is to “create a replicable, self-sustaining system of collecting, storing and distributing Maine-grown food to food-insecure Mainers.” Maine Master Gardener volunteers – and so many others – are addressing this growing challenge in myriad ways!

Maine Harvest for Hunger (Photo courtesy: Cumberland County Extension, ME)

Maine Harvest for Hunger (Photo courtesy: Cumberland County Extension, ME)

First let’s look at some statistics… While food insecurity affects people in every state, Maine has several unique challenges:

  1. New England’s highest rates of both child and senior food insecurity;
  2. a rapidly graying population which may reduce the number of home gardeners contributing to the program while at the same time increasing the number of households requesting help;
  3. geographical/resource diversity that makes collecting and distributing food particularly time sensitive; and
  4. social factors that often mask real need in some of the state’s wealthiest enclaves. Plus Maine has a substantial transient population that may not have a place, or perhaps the knowledge, to prepare fresh foods.

Growing out of the national Plant a Row for the Hungry effort, the great success of the Maine Harvest for Hunger program (209,178 pounds of produce donated statewide in 2012) is possible because of a dedicated network of home gardeners, community gardens, farms and orchards, food businesses, and countless volunteers who grow, glean or collect produce and see that it gets to the food pantries and soup kitchens for timely distribution.

Where the food comes from…

Out of the 200,000+ pounds donated statewide last year, 121,118 pounds was grown specifically for the program while 89,710 pounds were gleaned from local farms and orchards. Groups growing for the program have included co-worker teams at Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook Maine, employees at Harvard Pilgrim Insurance Company in Portland who are raising veggies in an innovative roof garden, many school and community gardens and even inmates at some of the county jails.

How the food is gathered…

This is often the biggest challenge for any food donation and distribution program. While some produce is fairly sturdy and has a reasonable shelf life – think potatoes, squash and onions – much produce needs to be picked and distributed within a very short time – think berries, tomatoes and cucumbers -, and often on very short notice: a BIG challenge for any volunteer-based organization. Master Gardener volunteers have answered the call to pick or glean time and again throughout the harvesting season. And beyond the gathering of fresh produce, even minimal storage space, especially refrigerated storage, is not always available on a widespread basis.

 

Maine Hunger for Harvest

Maine Master Gardeners (Photo courtesy: Cumberland County Extension Office, ME)

Where the food goes…

One out of every seven households in Maine is food insecure, and that includes families in the sparsely populated north of the state and the much more urbanized – and wealthy – southern half of the state. Food pantries in some of Maine’s wealthiest towns have seen sharply increased demand in recent years, and yes, they are meeting that need!

Maine’s primary food distribution partners are food banks, local food pantries and soup kitchens. The Good Shepard Food Bank, which serves our entire state, distributed an astonishing 13 MILLION pounds of food last year, often through local pantries and soup kitchens. In many areas of the state, local food pantries are really struggling to meet their mission by limited hours and volunteers available, and by a lack of much-needed refrigerated storage.

In Cumberland County, Maine’s most populous county, Portland’s Wayside Food Programs has been an invaluable Harvest for Hunger ally and partner. Wayside increases access to nutritious food to those in need by providing mobile food pantries, building community through (free) shared meals, and helping teach people to grow some of their own foods. A new facility which has consolidated Wayside’s operations, is expected to vastly increase their ability to preserve future harvests and expand outreach programs.

But, let’s go back to the idea of Maine as a total delight for any foodie… Thanks to the efforts of a great many volunteers in the Maine Harvest for Hunger program, much is being done to alleviate food insecurity in Maine, and perhaps THAT is really what “foodie paradise” really means!

Is there a food insecurity challenge in your area? Are Master Gardeners helping to feed the hungry?

Please share your stories and help us spread your good ideas!

Mary Webber
Master-Gardener-in-Training
Yarmouth, Maine
marywebb@maine.rr.com

Reducing Hunger, Improving Nutrition with Seed2Need Program

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Seed2Need – Award winning collaborative project

Since 2008 Seed2Need is a collaborative effort between the Sandoval County Master Gardeners (New Mexico), property owners in the village of Corrales and other volunteer groups.

This outstanding project won the 1st place International Master Gardener 2011 Search for Excellence – Community Service Award, awarded in October, 2011 at the International Master Gardener conference in Charleston, West Virginia.

IMGC Award Winners

IMGC Award Winners

Seed2Need’s mission

The project’s mission is to reduce hunger and improve nutrition in New Mexico by growing fresh produce for food pantries in Sandoval and Bernalillo Counties. The Master Gardeners also glean fruit from local orchards and solicit produce donations from the vendors and customers at the Corrales Grower’s market. Because most food pantries pick up produce directly from the gardens, it is often in the hands of the families who need it within hours of harvest.  See more about the program and those involved in this YouTube video.

Seed2Need is a great learning opportunity, too!

Seed2Need provides many opportunities to apply what Master Gardeners learn in class including seed starting, soil testing, fertilizer calculations, insect identification and control, fruit tree pruning, use of row cover, mulching techniques, composting and t-tape irrigation.

For more information about Seed2Need, see the following resources, and photo gallery

 

Submitted by Sylvia Hacker,
Doña Ana Co. Master Gardeners (On Facebook)
Texas Master Naturalist
Las Cruces, New Mexico