New greenhouse project to have a big impact on soup kitchens

By Mera McKenna | Dec 28, 2017
Courtesy of: Helfand Farm Community Gardens Volunteers in action at the Helfand Farm Community Gardens.

South Coast soup kitchens are set to get hundreds of additional pounds of fresh vegetables every year thanks to a group of volunteer gardeners turned construction workers in Dartmouth.

The do-it-yourself construction crew banded together to build a plastic, flexible greenhouse roof – or in farmers' lingo, a "high tunnel" – at the Helfand Farm Community Gardens on Chase Road in Dartmouth.

The project was funded by gardeners as well as a $2,500 grant from the United Way of Greater New Bedford’s Mini-Grants Program.

Helfand Farm Community Gardens grows and donates vegetables to area soup kitchens serving members of the South Coast community. Benjamin Rapoza, President of the group’s Board of Directors, shared just what makes HCFG so crucial to the people of the Dartmouth area.

“The soup kitchens get a lot of donations from supermarkets, but they have a lack of certain fresh produce because by the time the supermarket is giving produce away, its rotting,” Rapoza said.

That’s where the non-profit group of community gardeners comes in.

“We fill the gap for what's perishable…what has to be delivered after harvest,” Rapoza said. “We grow everything in an organic and sustainable way. It's the highest quality vegetables you can produce and its satisfying to see it all going to soup kitchens that feed the hungry.”

The 26 foot by 48 foot greenhouse, together with the on-site Soup Kitchen Garden, produced 600 pounds of vegetables for soup kitchens in New Bedford and Fall River this year alone. That number is expected to double with the addition of the greenhouse roof.

“We'll be growing earlier and later in the season with the greenhouse,” Rapoza said. “There are some cold weather things – like spinach and kale – we can now grow year-round. And in the warm weather we can grow tomatoes a month earlier. We’re also thinking of growing potatoes in the greenhouse.”

While local volunteers’ grit helped build the roof, Rapoza credits Marlene Holohan with spearheading the project.

“None of this would be happening without Marlene,” Rapoza said. “She managed the greenhouse construction project and started and manages the Soup Kitchen Garden."

The group also received help from several farmers who hosted workshops throughout the year for the budding gardeners and farmers, including Steve Murray of Berkley’s Heart Beets Farm and Christianson of Brix Bounty Farm in Dartmouth.

The organization is always seeking volunteers, and green thumbs aren’t a requirement.

“We welcome volunteers of all skill levels to help with growing, which will be in full-swing by the spring,” Rapoza said. “This is a great opportunity for new gardeners to learn. The greenhouse will give volunteers an opportunity to give back to their community, while learning how to grow organic vegetables."

Helfand Farm Community Gardens also has garden plots available for anyone who wants to grow vegetables for themselves and their families.

Dig it? Visit helfandgardens.com for more information about volunteering and garden plots.

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