by Karen J. Covey.
Did you know that 1 out of every 3 children in New Bedford and Fall River is living in a household unable to meet its basic food needs? Startling and true. Hunger in our community is a very real issue Organizations like Sharing The Harvest Community Farm are doing their part to help, and you can too.
Sharing the Harvest Community Farm is a non-profit, volunteer-driven farm that aims to help fight hunger in the local community. A collaboration between the Dartmouth YMCA, the United Way of Greater New Bedford, and the Hunger Commission of Southeastern Massachusetts (a program of the United Way), the goal of the Farm is to reduce hunger, as well as to increase agricultural education and awareness.
Established in 2006, Sharing the Harvest Community Farm grows, harvests, and prepares fresh crops for a single-day turnaround to food pantries. The program is supported by community volunteers from local businesses, schools, and civic organizations who donate their time and enthusiasm to help with the Farm. While the major focus of the Farm is to grow nutritional food to fight hunger, it’s also just as important to educate its volunteers and the local community on the realities of hunger right here in our own back yard.
While the United Way’s Hunger Commission has been able to provide food to our local pantries since 1987, they have been unable to provide a constant supply of fresh vegetables. Fresh produce is very cost-prohibitive for many people, and a lack of fresh foods can result in poor nourishment and the potential for many serious health problems. The United Way of Greater New Bedford assists the Farm program with both volunteer recruitment and community outreach, while the Hunger Commission provides the daily pickups and ensures that 100% of the food grown on the farm reaches those in need. Since 2006, the Farm has provided more than 207,000 pounds of fresh, healthy produce to our community. The overall success of the program has already had a direct impact on thousands of low-income families.
The Farm is located on a 68-acre parcel that’s part of the Dartmouth YMCA. Under the guidance of Farm Director Daniel King, the farm provides free opportunities for individuals and school groups to visit, volunteer, and learn at the Farm. These outdoor classrooms provide a hands-on learning experience where volunteers can get their hands dirty connecting with nature, all the while helping to make a difference. With 35,000 seedlings planted every year, the more hands to help, the better.
The program is part volunteer experience and part exploration. The goal is to provide volunteers with a real connection to food production and nature. Depending on the weather and what’s needed at the Farm, volunteers can help prepare beds for planting, sow seeds in the soil, transplant seedlings, or harvest and prepare the produce. The Farm grows a wide variety of produce from spring asparagus to late-season, locally-famous, Macomber turnips and has dozens of fruit trees as well. With approximately 35,000 seedlings planted every year, the more hands to help, the better.
The Farm hosts thousands of volunteers each season. It’s through these ongoing relationships with local schools and non-profit organizations, farmers, and residents that Sharing the Harvest Community Farm is making a difference and helping to improve the quality of lives for thousands of people in our community. And without them, the Farm could not exist.
Through the financial support of both public and private donations, the farm is able to sustain itself (about half of their funding comes from personal contributions, the other half through grants), but they are always looking for new and better ways to improve what they do. Each year the number of volunteers continues to grow, and in 2013, their best year to date, the farm had an impressive 2,648 people, including both children and adults, donate their time and services.
Last year, the farm also added Megan Berthiaume and Ellen Selley, two AmeriCorps VISTAs, to the Dartmouth office to not only increase their organizational and volunteer efforts but to help expand the nutritional side of what they do. Megan, who serves as the Health and Wellness Specialist, coordinated the creation of a cookbook that contains simple, yet healthy recipes using produce grown on the Farm. “Sharing the Health Community Cookbook” is available for purchase at the Dartmouth YMCA. Copies of the cookbook have also been donated to the food pantries affiliated with the Farm. The objective is to create simple, yet healthy recipes that will be realistic for families who receive their produce from the Farm.
As Sharing the Harvest Community Farm approaches its ninth growing season, the issue of hunger is still relevant here on the South Coast. With the Farm’s ever-growing need for additional volunteers, all are encouraged to consider joining the effort to ensure that all families have access to fresh produce.
On the day of our photoshoot, the volunteers were from Reel Serious, an after-school program whose mission is to afford young people a safe place to explore the history and culture of New Bedford through the creation of documentary films. The screening of their current project, Hungry But Not Hopeless, is slated for Sunday, September 21st at 5:30 pm at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Sharing The Harvest Community Farm
276 Gulf Road
Dartmouth, MA 02748
United Way of Greater New Bedford
Karen J. Covey is a food writer and cooking instructor living in Mattapoisett. In spring 2015, she will be launching a national magazine devoted to the best of coastal life, inspired by her cookbook, The Coastal Table: Recipes Inspired by the Farmlands and Seaside of Southern New England, published 2013.