Gardeners growing and giving in Paris

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GIVING GARDEN — With spring just around the corner and plants and animals beginning to come out of hibernation, a unused lot along

Park Street in Paris will soon buzz with activity as it’s slated to become a garden to feed area senior citizens and lower income families. The recently formed nonprofit Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities – comprised of roughly 40 master gardeners – will spearhead the giving and growing project housed at the lot at Oxford Hills Law. Once the Maine’s short growing season is in full swing, food will be distributed for free to those in need at the First Congregational Church of South Paris. In the meantime, a weekly course is being held at the church to teach people the ins and outs of gardening, with the hopes they will volunteer at the new garden space.

How did the garden grow?

NICE DIRT — From left, Jack Gentempo, Peter Jarzyna and Gere O'Donnell examine the different types of dirt at a recent gardening class put on by Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities, a nonprofit whose volunteers grow produce and give it away to needy residents to address food insecurity. The class runs for eight weeks at the First Congregational Church of South Paris.
NICE DIRT — From left, Jack Gentempo, Peter Jarzyna and Gere O’Donnell examine the different types of dirt at a recent gardening class put on by Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities, a nonprofit whose volunteers grow produce and give it away to needy residents to address food insecurity. The class runs for eight weeks at the First Congregational Church of South Paris.

Last year the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Paris did not host its garden to help local residents fend off food insecurity during warmer weather with fresh fruits and vegetables. A group of master gardeners organized and used space donated by Norway’s Alan Day Community Garden and Lollipapa Farm in West Paris to grow produce for those in need. The nonprofit was formed this January and attorneys Sarah Glynn and Linda Russell, also a master gardener, donated the lot next to their law office for garden space.

What kind of garden is it?

The lot is roughly one acre and 22 raised beds will be built, according to master gardener Barbara Murphy. There’ll be mixed greens, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, rhubarb, blueberries and others plus sunflowers and Norway pines. The group will also team up with the Oxford Hills Honey Bee Club to get some hives at the site to pollinate the plants.

Who can enjoy the bounty?

Glynn and Russell want to tie the garden to their AARP/World Health Organization Age Friendly Community initiative they’ve headed up in Paris, which helps seniors age in place. Historically, the garden’s bounty has been enjoyed by lower income families with children in the community and will be able to do so again this year.

What about the education?

The gardening class is held once a year and currently there are 27 students attending the once-a-week course. The course began at the end of February and runs for eight weeks, covering 20 hours of training. The cost is $100, but there are scholarships available for those who can’t afford the fee.

Who tends the garden?

Volunteers will do the gardening and other tasks, which is comprised of the original master gardener group, class attendees and others who want to join in on the fun.

When is food distributed?

Food giveaways are held every Thursday, beginning in mid-July, at the First Congregational Church of South Paris at 17 E. Main St. Food is distributed through October.

How will it expand?

A sign will be erected to alert passersby of the garden’s existence. The nonprofit received a $3,200 grant from Hannaford to help with garden and healthy eating program and $500 from Oxford Federal Credit Union to install a drip irrigation system. Gould Academy gave to the cause by donating compost and someone dropped off a stack of wooden pallets. Members also applied for a grant from the Maine Community Foundation to build a walk-in cold storage unit and one from New England Grassroots Environmental Fund for general support. There’s also a wish list on Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities’ website, including various tools and wheelbarrows.

How do I sign up?

To enroll in the food distribution, to help out at the garden or to donate to the nonprofit, visit www.gardenersgrowinghealthycommunities.org/, email gghc.maine@gmail.com or call Barbara Murphy at 890-1626.