As you may already be aware, produce from the KLT Victory Garden is being donated to five different organizations around the Seacoast area - Gather Food Pantry in Portsmouth, the North and South Berwick Food Pantries, End 68 Hours of Hunger, and Kittery School Nutrition. All of these organizations do incredible, and incredibly vital work, and we wanted to use this blog to spotlight some of what they do in our communities. Up first is Kittery School Nutrition, located right up the street from the garden at the Shapleigh School in Kittery.
Director Wendy Collins has created an innovative program for the Kittery schools which aims to ensure that children are receiving the nutrition they need while also being educated about the importance of nutrition and its relation to other issues. As part of this, Kittery School Nutrition proudly serves nutritious and delicious meals for students for both breakfast and lunch each day, including during this summer vacation.
Kittery School Nutrition is not your typical school food program. With a goal to make meals from scratch and reduce the amount of processed foods being consumed by its students, a dedicated team cooks meals on site as much as possible. Additionally, they strive to use the most local produce available. Both of these things became more challenging as a result of health concerns related to COVID-19, while at the same time being more important than ever before as the virus' economic impact resulted in greater food insecurity for many families.
Other initiatives pioneered by the program includes tower gardens at each Kittery school used in the winter months for fresh herbs and greens, as well as other gardens from which the harvest goes to each school’s salad bars. During the past school year, they began a Chef to School project that partnered with many talented, award winning chefs and local farmers to teach children more about cooking and nutrition. Farmers visited the schools and talked to the students about where a particular food came from and how it was grown. Chefs visited classes as well and showed students how to cook various healthy, nutritious dishes. Students sampled products and those in Kindergarten through 3rd grade took part in hands on projects with the farmers and chefs.
The combination of nutrition and education that Kittery School Nutrition provides the children in our community is both incredibly important and inspiring. When it comes to the KLT Victory Garden, we are absolutely thrilled to be able to contribute to this program, especially since many of our donated seedlings came directly from the schools' gardens. Since the beginning of July, the KLT Victory Garden has been supplying Kittery School Nutrition with cucumbers galore, heirloom and cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and bell peppers - including purple ones! According to Director Wendy Collins, our donation each week “really and truly helps our food expense line.” As a result, the program is able to reorient expenditures toward better packaging and lunch bags, and our donation frees up the funds to cover those costs. Overall, we’re so grateful for how well Kittery School Nutrition takes care of the children in our community, and so glad we can contribute to that work and lighten the load just a little bit.
To commemorate the first couple weeks of harvesting, I thought I would reflect a bit on what we have managed to accomplish with the KLT Victory Garden thus far. From the get go, the goal of the garden project was to create a donation garden for local food pantries and food security programs, all of whom do incredibly important work in our communities, and many of whom are facing increased need as a result of the pandemic and resulting economic downturn. The issue of food security is very intertwined with those of conservation and environmental preservation, and when you factor in that our garden would be providing organic, locally grown, low carbon footprint produce to these organizations, it seemed like the perfect way for KLT to give back!
We started the project on May 20 of this year, at which point I toured the garden with Lisa Linehan, our wonderful Executive Director, and the incredibly kind and generous Jackie Nooney, who is allowing us to use part of her property for the garden. At the time of this tour, the garden was an empty plot of land with a sturdy fence and a healthy colony of witch grass - albeit expertly tilled by Jackie a few days before. Little did we know what it would become in just a few short weeks!
Right away, we started in on the task of fielding and collecting seedling donations. By the time the end of May rolls around, it’s almost too late to plant many plants, so we wanted to get things in the ground as soon as possible. We sent out an email, put out a request on Facebook and almost immediately, the response was incredible. So many people wanted to donate their extra seedlings to the garden, and they were all excited to take part in our project. I spent the next week running around the Seacoast picking up containers of herbs, packages of seeds, extra tomatoes, and a host of other plants to use in the garden. By my estimate, we ended up with around 1,000 seedlings from about 50 different donors! Then, the planting began:
Once everything was planted, we began our volunteer program. Again, we put out an email and a request on social media, and the responses poured in. I began meeting with volunteers at the garden to show them around, and soon we had twice-daily waterers, plenty of weeders, and more people on deck for harvesting and donation drop offs. All in all, we have over 50 volunteers involved in tending the garden in some way, and collectively they have put in about 150 hours of work thus far. I could not be more grateful for their effort, enthusiasm, and ability to roll with the punches, and I could certainly not have managed the garden without them.
About 2 weeks ago, all our hard work began to pay off and we started harvesting! It all began with some kale, and then the zucchini came in, followed by cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, oh my! Thus far, we have harvested over 300 pounds of veggies and fresh herbs, and we’re only getting started! I am also incredibly proud that we have been able to partner with 5 different food security organizations around Kittery - Gather Food Pantry in Portsmouth, North Berwick Food Pantry, South Berwick Food Pantry, the Kittery School Nutrition Program, and End 68 Hours of Hunger, all of which have kind, dedicated individuals at the helm and do vital work keeping our community members healthy and well fed. We are so grateful to be able to contribute in some small way to their efforts.
In between seedling gathering, volunteer recruitment, and harvesting, we have also worked on other exciting projects and had help from some wonderful people and organizations: Compost was obtained from Mr. Fox Composting, quart containers were donated by Daphne Rowe and Tendercrop Farms, and Rich Smeltzer and Amy Webster brought us tomato cages and stakes galore. We have 2 excellent interns - Jen and Kate - and Peter Eisenheure of UNH Extension is featuring us in a documentary project about local food systems. We are so grateful to everyone involved!
Check back soon for our next blog post, in which our Gardening Intern Kate will walk you through how she built our new compost area!
Most of the time, this will be Martina, KLT Garden Coordinator (but keep your eyes peeled for some guest appearances)! I grew up in Portsmouth, love gardening, and am super interested in conservation law and policy. Given how conservation relates to other important needs in our society such as nutrition, poverty alleviation, and education, you can imagine why I am so excited to be working on the KLT Victory Garden!