2012-08-10 / Community

Gardens provide for those in need

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Tammy Roscia planted her plot at the Hamlin School Community Garden late this year. She was on the waiting list until this summer, and started work on July 4. Here, she shows off her first harvest from the plot – three tomatoes that she will donate to the South Portland Food Cupboard through the Harvest for Hunger program. (Jack Flagler photo) Tammy Roscia planted her plot at the Hamlin School Community Garden late this year. She was on the waiting list until this summer, and started work on July 4. Here, she shows off her first harvest from the plot – three tomatoes that she will donate to the South Portland Food Cupboard through the Harvest for Hunger program. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland Food Cupboards Director Sybil Riemsnider said she has seen a significant increase in need at the food cupboard lately. According to Riemsnider, demand is 12 percent higher now than it was six months ago.

“People are coming that have never had to use a food pantry before. That’s a bit humbling,” Riemsnider said.

For the last three weeks, Riemsnider has had some help from members of the community to meet that demand.

Every Tuesday afternoon, volunteers harvest, clean and sort vegetables from their garden beds at the community garden located at the old Hamlin School on the corner of Ocean Street and Sawyer Street. The next morning, the produce is donated to the food cupboard as part of Maine’s Harvest for Hunger program.

Patti Smith, South Portland mayor and a member of the Community Garden Collective, said the haul has weighed between 48 and 52 pounds for the food pantry in past weeks, and Riemsnider told Smith she has “never seen such beautiful produce.”

That weekly delivery from the garden feeds approximately 80 families every week, Smith said. Reimsnider added that the Harvest for Hunger donations account for about a third of all the food she gives away.

The program is important on a number of levels, Smith said. It helps the food cupboard in the city as others around the state deal with cuts, and brings together community members to “get good local food to the pantry.”

“It was a complete surprise. I was thrilled because I knew the problems they had in trying to establish this community garden,” Riemsnider said of the donations.

The Community Garden Collective was established in January 2011, but Smith said she still has received a few letters and emails from citizens unhappy because they believe the garden “isn’t the best use of the property.”

Smith said she hopes the Harvest for Hunger program can show that the community garden benefits more than just the individuals growing the vegetables. She said the positive effect of the garden extends to those who rely on the food pantry and also to the local businesses involved in the program.

Scratch Bakery, located in Willard Square, is one of those businesses that has become involved in the garden. Although Allison Reid, bread baker and co-owner at Scratch, does not consider herself a master gardener, she said, “I enjoy having my hands in bread dough or in dirt.”

The goal for Scratch’s plot, Reid said, is to pack as many nutritional vegetables as they could into their 10-foot by 10-foot bed. Scratch didn’t plant any lettuce, but instead opted for kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, beans and tomatoes.

“Being bakers, we think everybody should at least have good bread and good vegetables,” Reid said.

Soma Massage and Wellness, located on Cottage Road, also manages a plot at the community garden. Smith said she hopes more businesses follow Scratch and Soma’s lead, and the program is “a good way to highlight how our group is working locally in the business community, if it works in to their mission.”

The Community Garden Collective is looking for more volunteers to help with the food cupboard donation program. Volunteers harvest the week’s vegetables at the old Hamlin School location every Tuesday afternoon from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The produce is then dropped off at the food cupboard the next morning. The South Portland Food Cupboard is open Wednesday and Thursday mornings from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

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