Free Veggies For The People
Northeast Hemp Commodities Donates Thousands Of Plants To Local Community
After reducing their 2020 growing operations to meet current market demand, the team at Northeast Hemp Commodities began to imagine what they might do with their available greenhouse space in Florence, Vermont.
Inspired by a passion to benefit their community, they decided to grow vegetable starts and donate them to anyone who might like to bolster their food-growing efforts. Partnering with Food Connects out of Brattleboro, which works to strengthen the movement for community-based food systems throughout New England, they broadcast their project across Southern Vermont and made the program available to anybody who needs vegetables.
“If someone wants to learn how to garden or farm and wants to give it a shot they can get 1 or 200,” said NE Hemp’s Jonathan Gregg. “We’re all for it. We’re getting as many veggies as we can out into the state of Vermont.”
“On June 10, during the actual giveaway, we donated about 9000 plants to over 80 organizations and families.”
With 15 varieties of vegetables available ranging from tomatoes, cucumbers, and celery to watermelon, pumpkin, and kale, NE Hemp was able to attract a great deal of interest as soon as word about the project reached the community.
“We had over 30 schools and other organizations contact us within two hours of launching,” said Gregg. “On June 10, during the actual giveaway, we donated about 9000 plants to over 80 organizations and families.”
While NE Hemp gave away the starts for free, they had little concern about competing with local greenhouses and other plant outlets, as program participants are “more organizations and schools looking to start gardening, and want to get vegetables at quantity” said Conor Floyd, Food Connects’ Farm to School Program Manager.
“I know that I’m not reaching nearly as many students as I normally would. I’m thankful for donations, including this one, that allow me to plant the garden so that students can return in the fall to a vibrant garden ready for harvest.”
“Normally I’d be planting the school gardens with students, cooking and doing taste tests with students, and teaching students about nutrition and plants,” said Guilford Central School’s Sarah Rosow, who heard about the giveaway from Food Connects. “But instead I’m planting the gardens alone, giving video tours of the garden, distributing seeds to families via bus, and doing cooking shows in my home kitchen that teachers are sharing with students through Google classrooms. It’s very strange and I miss the social interaction,” said Rosow. “I know that I’m not reaching nearly as many students as I normally would. I’m thankful for donations, including this one, that allow me to plant the garden so that students can return in the fall to a vibrant garden ready for harvest.”
Giveaway participant Debra Rosensweig is a member of Brattleboro’s Sunrise Rotary Club, and had been looking to create a couple of Pick Your Own gardens in a space she manages across from the Brattleboro Commons. “I want to make the gardens more beautiful and useful to the community,” said Rosensweig. “Maybe we’ll even plant kiwi vines or cherry trees there.”
Steve Hed from Putney Central School hoped the giveaway could help them overcome the challenges the novel Coronavirus pandemic imposed on their independent food program. “We’ve been expanding our garden space over the years and we are working towards supplying a large portion of the produce we use to be grown by the kids,” said Hed. “We are offering gardening, taste tests and cooking classes as time permits and some teachers are working the garden into their curricula. You can teach just about any subject using a garden! Because of COVID 19, all of our plans were pretty much shot this year. We are going to try and get small groups together to get the garden going but we didn’t have the time at school to get our starts ready. These flats,” said Hed, “will help jump start us.”