Entryway to the Community Food Collaborative's garden, Sturbridge, MA

The Community Food Collaborative (CFC) is entering its third growing season at its garden located behind the Sturbridge Town Hall lower parking lot.  The land is owned by the Federated Church of Sturbridge and its use is being generously donated to the CFC garden committee.  The committee members have been busy planning and implementing upgrades to the garden for 2020.

After doubling the size of the garden in 2019, the CFC was able to more than double the donation of fresh organic vegetables.  The Saint John Paul II Food Pantry in Southbridge gladly accepted 3,107 pounds of vegetables last year from the CFC to help feed the local food insecure citizens of both Southbridge and Sturbridge.

“It takes a lot of effort to grow and harvest that many vegetables and the volunteers have been up to the task and deserve all the credit”, boasted Pauline White, a member of the committee.  “Between the regular volunteers and the guest volunteers from outside groups, we had 485 volunteers work a total of 1,114 hours in 2019.  We could not have done it without them.  It’s a community effort.  The volunteers, including the students at Tantasqua Regional High School, are so giving of their time and talent to work on this project to help feed the less fortunate.  We are very proud of them.”

In the fall, the Southbridge Garden Club volunteered to enhance the area around the CFC garden sign by planting a variety of shrubs, an ornamental tree, and several plants which they donated and planted as well.  They intend to add additional plants each year to the bank in front of the garden.     

What are the plans for the CFC garden in 2020?  The CFC committee identified two goals they wanted to meet in 2020.  They wanted to fence in the garden with strong metal fencing and wanted to finish completing the irrigation system to the remaining half of the garden.  The first goal of fencing was completed in March by a local company, Steadfast Fence.  The second goal of completing the irrigation system has recently been designed by engineers who have generously donated their time.  Piping materials have been purchased and two 400-gallon water tanks are on order.  The installation is expected to be completed in June.  While only having two goals may not seem like much, the money necessary to meet these goals is significant.  How did they reach these goals?  They applied to The Last Green Valley last summer for a $6,000 Community Enrichment Grant and were fortunate enough to be awarded the grant. 

“The grant is a matching grant,” says Joe Coan, president of the garden.  “As you can imagine, we’ve been very busy since January raising funds to meet this grant requirement.  Our generous donors, most who have been with us all along, helped us reach our goal.  We were just about there, then March came and the arrival of COVID-19 changed everything for everyone.  Many companies were faced with their own challenges and had to refocus their priorities.” 

Coan isn’t complaining because he’s a businessman himself and knows what everyone is going through.  He added, “We are extremely grateful for the aid they have given us this year and in years past.  We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without their generosity to us and ultimately to those who rely on the food pantry.”

Coan stresses, “We are riding the waves of the pandemic and paying close attention to guidelines given to everyone.  Being a volunteer-driven community garden, we can’t have more than 10 people at a time working in the garden.  Committee members of the garden are doing some prep work at the garden right now with masks on and leaving six feet between each other.  The challenge will come once we plant the garden at the beginning of June.  Then the volunteers come in mid-June to help weed and do other tasks at the garden.  We are hoping the disease has wilted by then and the guidelines will be relaxed, but we certainly don’t want to rush anything.  The safety of our volunteers and ourselves is paramount.  Rumors of a resurgence of the virus in the fall should make everyone cautious about returning to normal activities too soon.  It may take more coordination on our part with our volunteers but we’ll do what we have to do to get the job done.” 

There’s been a lot of talk about all the people out of work, which in the long term will mean the food pantries may see a much higher demand.  Home gardeners are also asked to plant more than they can consume and donate the extra food to the pantries.  Unfortunately, there may always be individuals who are food challenged.  Regardless of the virus, the CFC is committed to its mission and will strive again this year to produce and donate even more to the Saint John Paul II Food Pantry. 

Coan says, “The mission and purpose of the Community Food Collaborative is, and has always been, to help those who rely on the Saint John Paul II Food Pantry to have access to fresh produce.  We, like everyone else, are needed now more than ever to help those in our communities and we will certainly do our part.  We are all in this together.”

Check out the garden’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CFCGardens/ or website at http://cfcgarden.org or email them at CFCGarden357@gmail.com  The garden committee welcomes volunteers, donations of funds, new or used garden tools, and in-kind services.  Pay a visit and take a look at the garden and see the amazing work these folks are doing.

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