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Monday, April 28, 2014

SRIV takes over supervision of Charlestown Community Garden

Garden poised to grow
Beware, Charlestown vampires - the garlic is coming up!
By Will Collette

In a quiet and noncontroversial way, the Charlestown Town Council approved the transformation of the Charlestown Community Garden from being a quasi-municipal program to becoming a part of the network of services run by the non-profit Southern Rhode Island Volunteers (SRIV). The measure was included in the Council’s “consent agenda” for April 14 and was approved unanimously without discussion or debate.

The Garden was started in spring 2011 in Ninigret Park and has been producing up to 3,000 pound of fresh vegetables and fruit each year. That produce is distributed among local food panties and programs including SRIV’s senior meals program.

SRIV Director Deb Tanner said “SRIV is already delivering meals on wheels and food from local food pantries to elders, disabled adults, and families in need.  SRIV also provides rides for senior citizens to RICAN and the Jonnycake Center food pantries to pick up food.  The garden’s purpose just fits our mission of service to our neighbors in need across Washington County.”

Earth Care Farm compost
Garden manager Susie Fehrman noted, “All of the food grown in the garden is donated to those in need:  The Jonnycake Center of Westerly, The Warm Shelter, The Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, Meals on Wheels, the senior lunch program at the Charlestown Senior/Community Center, and local families that have indicated they are in need.  We look forward to expanding our contributions to these organizations and to others in need… SRIV offers the support necessary for us to move to the next level. 

“Our affiliation with a 501c(3) organization allows us to be eligible for more grants and the grant–writing talents of the SRIV organization; it puts more of the administrative tasks on the SRIV organization so we can do what we do best: grow vegetables; and it puts a host of support services at our disposal. We are grateful to the Town of Charlestown, especially the Parks and Rec Department, for their past support and encouragement. However, we are ready to take the next leap and look forward to working closely with Deb Tanner and the SRIV crew.”

Adding some lime
Deb Tanner added that “SRIV also takes a great deal of pleasure in providing meaningful service opportunities for our volunteer members across the county.  Certainly feeding our hungry neighbors is substantially meaningful.  The garden produces about 3,000 pounds of food in a growing season.  The fresh produce is vital to a nutritionally balanced diet.  We have neighbors in need.  We have neighbors who want to help meet that need.  Bottom line is that SRIV is about people in service, enjoying and benefiting from providing whatever that service may be and people in need receiving help.  This was one of the easiest collaborations ever.”

Both Deb and Susie emphasize the classic challenges nearly every non-profit organization faces – the need to raise money and to recruit volunteers to not only keep things going, but to grow and improve. 

Susie notes that the Garden will need to carefully document volunteer hours and actual production since these data will be important elements in grant applications.

I think they already are well on the way to having a good recording system. Click here to see a breakdown of their recent production figures (and note the impressive amount of eggplant they grow).

Deb and Susie are already looking toward future growth. In addition to the core Garden program, there’s the new May 3rd recycling day being held at the Charlestown Police Station. The Garden hopes to add a second day of festivities to its Harvest Festival. Deb is hoping that “maybe someday we’ll have a greenhouse somewhere in Charlestown, and maybe educational programs we can present to our children.”

She added, “I think we’re only limited by our vision, our willingness to work together, and our determination to eliminate hunger!”

Of course, work on this year’s crop has already started. Susie Fehrman reports: “So far this year we have spread lime, and 3 truckloads of compost from Earth Care Farm [at 89 Country Drive in the northern end of Charlestown] - compliments of the community support at the Harvest Festival.  Garlic planted last fall is up. Ground should be plowed this week - with a little luck.”

Anyone interested in exploring the garden as a volunteer should drop by on Tuesday or Thursday morning or contact SRIV at 552-7661 for more information. Folks do need to complete a brief orientation (about 15/20 minutes of their time).  

SRIV conducts criminal background checks on all volunteers because they work with vulnerable populations. Anyone needing food should contact Michelle Vekakis at the Charlestown Community Center. All such calls will be kept confidential.