Volunteer Spotlight: Dig into a food pantry produce garden in Charlestown

  • Volunteers work in the Food Pantry Garden at Brookmead Conservation Area in Norwich, The Upper Valley Land Trust is starting a similar program at Up on the Hill in Charlestown this year and is looking for volunteers. (Upper Valley Land Trust photograph) Upper Valley Land Trust photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/10/2021 9:24:17 PM
Modified: 4/10/2021 9:24:16 PM

The Upper Valley Land Trust is expanding its Food Pantry Garden Program to Charlestown and needs volunteers to help.

The 5,000-square-foot garden will be located in the Charlestown section at Up on the Hill, a roughly 1,000-acre spread owned by the land trust that also reaches into Unity and Claremont. The produce grown at the site will be donated to the Claremont Soup Kitchen.

The new garden will resemble a food pantry garden UVLT started in 2019 at Brookmead Conservation Area in Norwich. The produce grown there is donated to Willing Hands, a Norwich-based nonprofit organization that distributes produce to food pantries and other organizations working with food-insecure people throughout the Upper Valley.

“We wanted to expand that program because it’s been going very well, and we have a lot of other sort of land that’s good for growing vegetables,” said Alison Marchione, UVLT’s program manager. “It’s got good soils, and it’s close to Claremont as sort of a hub.”

The produce picked in Charlestown will go directly to the Claremont Soup Kitchen, instead of getting trucked back up to Willing Hands for distribution. The plan is to prepare the space at Up on the Hill this spring and start planting around Memorial Day. Summer squash and zucchini, onions, potatoes, radishes, lettuce, butternut squash, carrots, cucumbers and peas are among the vegetables on the roster. Marchione is also keeping an eye out for tomato starts.

With a new project comes a need for new volunteers. Last year at Brookmead, more than 70 people worked on the garden. Some came by once; others were there every week. All contributions — no matter how much time — mattered.

“If you have 10 to 15 people out there every week, that’s fantastic, but they don’t always have to be the same to 10 to 15 people,” Marchione said. “The more volunteers we have, the better, basically.”

UVLT staff plan on holding workdays from 3 to 7 p.m. at Up on the Hill Thursdays, but the schedule could change depending on the need and the weather. Volunteers will be tasked with planting, weeding, watering and harvesting, among other responsibilities. Children under 16 are welcome to help, but must be accompanied by an adult. At Brookmead, some children volunteered alongside their grandparents, Marchione said.

“It was really fun to talk to them about food, how it’s grown and how you cook it,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity to talk to your kids about people who don’t have enough food and what they can do to help them.”

In addition to starting the garden in Charlestown, UVLT is also expanding its program in Norwich. This year, they’re partnering with the Abenaki Land Link program, which was started by the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation and involves organizations Rooted in Vermont and NOFA-VT. The Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation will give UVLT two kinds of indigenous beans and Algonquian squash to grow on an expanded plot at Brookmead. Volunteers will then harvest those crops and give them back to the Nulhegan Band, who will distribute them to Abenaki citizens.

Volunteers meet at Brookmead 3 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, May through October.

Editor’s note: For more information on volunteering for UVLT’s Food Pantry Garden Program or to sign up, visit uvlt.org/food-pantry-garden.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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