This is What Community Impact Looks Like: The Giving Garden
Tucked away between our Hoop House and beehives, is one of our most important community assets, our beautiful demonstration "Giving Garden." This 55x80' garden has, so far, produced over 2,400 lbs of fresh vegetables for food insecure families and individuals in Saratoga just this season. Funded by a generous grant from the Charles R. Wood Foundation, and through a partnership with the Franklin Community Center Food Pantry, we set out to use this garden as a way to demonstrate how to grow your own food, and to donate all of the produce to food insecure families and individuals in our region. Our original proposal for this season estimated a donation of 1,000 lbs. Thanks to the dedication of a tireless volunteer team, we have far exceeded that goal!
Food insecurity rates for our area (District 20) are 11.6% overall and 17% for children. In Saratoga County, only 28.1% of adults are eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. According to the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS), approximately 11.8% of persons in the greater District 20 live in poverty. We also know that approximately 30% of children in our school district are on free or reduced lunch program (this number only rises throughout each school year). Eating a diet rich in vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet is one of the key planks in reducing the risk of virtually every major disease which especially affect the under-served population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven of the ten leading causes of death in the United States are linked to poor diet. The barriers to regularly consuming fresh produce among folks in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities are multiple and varied, but unquestionably include cost and availability of these goods. The overall goal for our Giving Garden is to dramatically expand our capability to provide access to healthy, fresh, and affordable vegetables to the community we serve.
Partnering with the Franklin Community Center Food Pantry allowed us to work together to survey pantry customers before growing season to assess what vegetables would be most popular. Working with our farmer, Aliza Pickering and Giving Garden Volunteer lead Chris Cameron, we were able to plan for the growing season with the most desirable vegetables for the very people who would be consuming them.
The Giving Garden at Pitney Meadows Community Farm is overseen by our farmer Aliza Pickering and is a completely volunteer-run operation. Many of you have seen our dedicated volunteer Chris Cameron, a local painter, toiling away in the garden early in the mornings each day and on weekends to get in as many hours as he can before working. Along with many volunteers, including master gardener Margie Ingram and Shelters of Saratoga staff member Robert Curry, Chris and his team have used all organic practices resulting in a plentiful harvest and a truly gorgeous sight to see on the farm. Volunteers help us with every aspect of this operation. From growing, to weeding, watering, harvesting, washing, packing, and delivering.
Fortuitously, a second partnership has grown out of the original grant-funded one with Franklin Community Center. The Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge #161 Senior Outreach Program teamed up with us to distribute our produce to six senior centers and two additional rural food pantries, greatly expanding our reach and impact. The seniors use the intake form used at Franklin Community Center for their Food Pantry. Currently our program is serving 120 individuals, but could reach upward of 200 or more. "According to the National Council for the Aging nearly 1 in 6 seniors in America face hunger and struggle with being able to be properly nourished themselves. In Saratoga/Wilton county data reveals an ever-increasing number of seniors who are near or below the poverty level moving in to our community, many of whom have significant health issues and have no reliable means to transportation. Here in Franklin’s Food Pantry we realized the need but ran into transportation and food barriers, including having enough healthy foods such as fresh produce. We are so grateful for our partnership with the Saratoga Wilton Elks and Pitney Meadows Community Farm. Together we have begun to not only increase food security amongst our vulnerable seniors but by increasing accessibility to healthy produce improving their health," says Julie Slovic, Food Program Administrator at Franklin Community Center and Pitney Meadows Board Member.
The impact of Giving Garden cannot be overstated. As one customer at the Food Pantry shared with Julie, "Not only is my nutrition better but at the end of the month I can pay my utility bill." The success of this year's demonstration and pilot motivates us to seek extended and additional funding to deepen our impact. Please contact us if you are interested in learning more, touring the Giving Garden, or investing in it's expansion and future. Or you can make an individual donation here. Thank you for sharing our vision!
*In addition to the Giving Garden, we also donate from our farm fields, community gardens, and PYO CSA members, bringing this season's total of donated produce to well above 5,000lbs.