One of the beautiful things about food and farming is that inspiration and gratitude are constant companions, unfettered by any definition of “on the clock”.
Last week during my summer vacation I took the opportunity to visit with my good friend Judy Bennett and some of the urban gardens managed by the Rochester International Academy Interact Club, which is sponsored by the Rochester Northwest Rotary. This is a unique 50 member club, comprised of refugees from many countries such as Congo, Eritrea, Nepal, Somalia, Thailand, Vietnam and Yemen. Students in the club worked in partnership with Foodlink and the Rochester City School District, and with a grant from Wegmans Food Markets, Inc and donations from Johnny’s Seeds to raise almost 5,000 vegetable plants this year in the greenhouse attached to the former Jefferson High School. The seedlings have been distributed to the Foodlink sponsored community gardens throughout the greater Rochester area, providing healthy, affordable produce to emergency food programs and a source of meaningful connection to the earth and their food for many refugees.
Judy took me on a visit to two of the gardens, the first behind the Calvary St Andrews Presbyterian Church off Averill Avenuein Rochester’s Southwedge neighborhood. This church runs an emergency mobile food pantry, with donated food augmented by an array of fresh vegetables in season that are grown in the Foodlink-sponsored Alison Clarke Community Garden – an oasis of 18 beds of fresh produce growing behind the church. The mobile pantry had just run that morning, and an abundance of swiss chard, kale, and collard greens had been picked and distributed. We discussed the challenges of composting in city gardens and checked out the progress of an impressive plot of summer squashes and cucumbers.
From there we drove to the Foodlink sponsored gardens on Lexington Avenue. Every time I visit a farm or garden I am inspired by the creative genius of farmers and gardeners, and this was no exception. These community gardens are largely managed by Nepalize refugees. There on a vacant city lot, old walk-in coolers had been transformed into raised beds. Instead of using conventional stakes and trellises to support the plants, tree branches were stuck in and around each raised bed, creating an amazing effect of a forest in the middle of the garden! Around each bed the twisting limbs were green with slender tendrils of peas, pole beans, and cucumbers and carrying the weighty branches of tomatoes and their promise of ripe fruit to come.
Thank you Judy for this wonderful visit and for letting me see collaboration and inspiration in action, bringing healthy food to so many.