On a sunny Wednesday morning, more than a dozen gardeners in and around Jericho — plus a few Cub Scouts — gathered at the Deborah Rawson Memorial Library to harvest 300 pounds of potatoes.
It’s a group that has been meeting every Wednesday morning all summer long to plant, tend, and harvest vegetables — and then donate the food to the local food shelf.
“Our contribution is that we can do fresh produce, which is great, because the food shelf gets a lot of canned food and packaged food, but this is all fresh,” said Susan Adams, the ex-gym teacher and Master Gardener who heads the project.
Last Wednesday’s work was the most labor-intensive of the summer, so Adams spread the word on Front Porch Forum that a few extra hands might be needed to get the job done — and her numbers more than tripled in response.
Adams’ half-dozen regulars turned into nearly 20 volunteers for Wednesday’s work — pulling out weeds, digging up potatoes, sorting through the damaged and undamaged, and getting them ready for donation at the food shelf, which is open on the third Saturday of every month.
Ten churches run and support the Essex, Jericho, Underhill Ecumenical Ministry Food Shelf. Once a month, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Route 15 in Jericho, food is distributed to people in the community.
“This is a very wealthy community, but there’s a lot of need,” Adams said. “People don’t know about those pockets of need, and the church is great, because no questions are asked. You just show up, they box it and they bring it to your car.”
Adams is a Master Gardener, certified to do this kind of work. And anyone who works on the project with her can earn volunteer hours for their own Master Gardener certificates.
But it hasn’t always been that way. Adams started the project more than 10 years ago, back when the library’s garden wasn’t much of a garden at all.
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“I did it because I wanted to do this,” she said. “I had seen the library was very overgrown and I had thought there might have been a vegetable garden, and I found out there was, but the problem is, if people don’t maintain it, it’s gone, so I put in an application to the Master Gardeners.”
Adams had to earn the support of the local selectboard, library, and church that puts on the food shelf before she could begin, and she had to prove that the work would be an educational program that would be open to the community — then, it was off to the races.
When the project began, Adams said there was just one small vegetable garden at the library, feeding about 20 families at the food shelf each month. Now, she said, that vegetable garden has been expanded and three other gardens have been added — a perennial flower garden, a butterfly garden, and a themed garden, decorated with children’s book characters. And now more than 60 families pick up food monthly.
Adams said the pandemic hasn’t made a dent in the volunteer base.
“We spread out, everybody does their own thing, and it’s a great therapy,” she said. “Working outside is nice, you’ve got this nice fresh air — it’s ideal.”
In March, when the pandemic hit, she wanted to err on the side of caution, so she started small, adding people only as needed.
“I started by myself, and then the next week, I added one person, and then each week, I added one ore person,” she said.
But on potato harvesting day, Adams figured the volunteers could use all the help they could get, and with everyone socially distanced and wearing masks, she decided a bigger team was all right.
“I took the Master Gardening course during the pandemic, so I took it from January, and I think we were done the first week of June. So I have to do 40 hours of volunteer service, so I come every Wednesday,” said volunteer Suzanne Freitas. “I love it; it’s a wonderful group of ladies. Sue Adams, she’s just fabulous. She writes us a thank-you note each week.”
“I saw it on Front Porch Forum, and said, I can dig potatoes!” said Nancy Karlson. “It’s great; it’s like digging for treasure.”
In addition to potatoes, the team is set to donate tomatoes, carrots, green beans, peppers, pole beans, bush beans, onions and bouquets of flowers to the food shelf — and anything extra will go to the Jerri-hill Senior Center.
“We’ll keep doing this until the third week of October, when there’s another day of the food shelf, and then we’ll donate again,” Adams said.