Community volunteers like Ken and Audrey Mochel go beyond growing food for Cayuga’s vulnerable population by empowering community members to grow fresh foods for themselves. In 2011, the Calvary-BOCES Partnership Food Garden formed as a special collaboration between volunteers like the Mochels, the Calvary Food Pantry, Cayuga County BOCES Life Sciences class and several other community partners. Their goal was to form a collaborative endeavor to make fresh food accessible to individuals and families in need.
The Calvary Food Pantry of Central New York is an emergency food pantry that has met the needs of the residents of Auburn and its surrounding region for more than 25 years. For some time, the pantry maintained a garden on a plot of land behind its facility. Together with Cayuga County BOCES, the organization sought to use the land to allow families in need to start planting there for their personal use as well.
“We started with a small plot of land for our garden, which was productive but eventually we needed more room as we began to serve more people,” said Calvary Food Pantry executive director Nancy Sheffield. “We also wanted to expand enough to be able to show local residents how to grow food for themselves.”
As families came to the pantry for canned and boxed foods, they could also gather fresh produce like eggplant, bok choy, Swiss chard, collard greens and squash. The partnership garden also included an educational component to teach families the fun of gardening. Volunteers taught young children in nearby schools like Melone Village, Casey Park Elementary and the local Head Start.
As interest in growing fresh food overwhelmed the partnership’s small plot of land, they sought to expand the garden from one acre to two. This would not only increase the amount of food grown with families but would also fulfill a need to provide fresh food to other pantries in Cayuga County as well.
To do this, the partnership would need more volunteers, supplies, seeds and an army of community support. As the community rallied and donations began to come in, the partnership received a grant from the Cayuga Health Association Fund, a field-of-interest component of the Cayuga Community Fund, toward the purchase of necessary items such as a utility trailer, glass wheel hoe, water tank and signage.
Over the past few years, the garden’s success has expanded exponentially. In 2010, the one-acre garden distributed more than $6,000 worth of fresh produce. In 2011, the amount grew to $9,000 and eventually to $12,000 in 2012. With the help of the Cayuga Community Fund and a powerful collaborative effort among service-providing groups in Cayuga County, the fresh food imprint for Cayuga County families in need has now doubled.
“We have made a great step forward in providing wholesome, fresh, tasteful produce to local pantries and their clients,” Sheffield said. “We wish to acknowledge how important the Cayuga Community Fund’s support of this program has been.”
The Central New York Community Foundation is a public charity established in 1927 that collects contributions from donors, manages them to grow over time and then distributes funding to local charities to help them thrive. It is the largest charitable foundation in Central New York with assets of more than $280 million and has invested more than $200 million in community improvement projects since its inception. As a grantmaker, civic leader, convener and sponsor of strategic initiatives, the Community Foundation strives to strengthen local nonprofits, encourage better understanding of the region and address the most critical issues of our time.