Each year hundreds of baskets of fresh produce are distributed to Madison County schools, community centers and residences. It all starts with the dedicated Hamilton Food Cupboard (HFC) volunteers who grew close to 2,000 plants and seedlings last year.
HFC advocates for the hungry in the Town of Hamilton and rural Madison County communities by running a food pantry and providing information on social services to its patrons. Its abundance of home-grown produce is made possible by a greenhouse that extends its growing season to include our region’s harsh early-spring climate.
The moveable 18 x 24 structure, developed with the assistance of a Community Foundation grant in 2012, was built on land donated by Highland Farm, a local commercial operation near HFC. The greenhouse put forth its first seedlings in 2013. The HFC estimates it’s now able to provide fresh produce to 600-700 people each month.
But the greenhouse has grown more than just produce; it has cultivated community collaboration as well. In 2016, Colgate University partnered with HFC to provide a fenced garden area, coordinator and student interns. This effort meant hundreds of seedlings and plants were grown in collaboration with Colgate, including tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, melons, lettuces and more.
The Crouse Community Center, a skilled nursing and adult rehabilitation facility, spruced up its living spaces with container plants that were grown in the greenhouse. Madison Lane Apartments, a low-income senior living center, as well as two local mobile home parks received raised garden beds prepopulated with seedlings.
The greenhouse provides learning opportunities as well. Local grade school students visit the greenhouse to learn how to transplant seedlings to larger containers, and then return three weeks later to take the transplantable tomatoes home to a family garden.
Sam Stradling, an HFC board member and coordinator of the greenhouse project, said the organization’s primary goal was to provide seedlings for HFC patrons to grow at home.
“The Greenhouse Project has provided the groundwork to help hundreds of our needy neighbors avail themselves of healthy, locally grown produce, some from their own gardens, and much from the HFC and local farm community,” Stradling said.
HFC will expand efforts this year with a third raised bed from Highland Farm. With seedlings already pre-planted for this summer, Stradling and the HFC community are looking forward to another year of finding innovative ways to advocate for the hungry.