The History and Legacy of the Grow to Give Garden
The Grow to Give Garden (G2GG) garden was created in 2012 for the express purpose of growing organic produce for donation to local food pantries. Its genesis was a project of the Long Island Community Agriculture Network founded by UUFH member Frances Whittelsey, Larry Foglia and Heather Forest. The project engaged 10 houses of worship, including UUFH, in creating grow-to-give gardens to fight hunger and bring fresh food to people in need. Funding from The Long Island Community Foundation and the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund enabled LICAN to assist with materials and expertise.
After obtaining permission from the UUFH Board, the garden site was carved, literally, out of the overgrown edge of the furthest end of the back parking lot. UUFH members Beth Feldman, Frances and Harry Whittelsey and others helped construct the first three raised beds. Soon, a used garden shed with donated tools and a gerry-rigged watering system were in place.
Eleven years later, this humble start, through dedicated volunteer effort, is now a deer-fenced area encompassing approximately 2,500 square feet. It contains eight raised beds, a new custom built shed, a composting station, an above-ground irrigation system and a patio table with umbrella and chairs. Through the years more than 50 volunteers have contributed their time and skills towards this endeavor. Their efforts were recognized by Interim Minister Reverend Debra Haffner, at our tenth anniversary celebration in October 2022.
Currently, G2GG volunteers work closely with Long Island Cares The Harry Chapin Food Bank and other local food pantries in need of fresh produce. Each season our team of volunteer gardeners gets to work planning the growing season. Conversations with Long Island Cares guides our selection of seeds and plants for the year. Our crops have included cool weather greens, peas, asparagus and beans; hot weather tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, kohlrabi, beets, carrots; and fall weather harvests like sweet potatoes, white potatoes and winter squash. We have also grown herbs including oregano, basil, thyme, cilantro, chives and dill.
From the beginning, G2GG has intertwined educational and compassionate goals. Towards that end, G2GG has been the fortunate beneficiary of the efforts of a Suffolk County Master Gardener, Terry Donaldson, as well as Beth Feldman, both retired educators and UUFH members. Other gardeners have shared their knowledge and practices with each other, and we have welcomed Master Gardeners who bring the teachings of Cornell College of Agriculture. This year two additional UUFH members have obtained their Master Gardener certificate and the G2GG is an approved venue for their required community service. Their participation will help expand our current efforts to teach about the composting and sustainable land management techniques used in our garden practice.
Since 2017, active engagement by the children (and their parents) through the UUFH Religious Education program has exposed them to the art (and joys) of gardening as well as to compassionate giving. During the summer months our children, youth and teachers have come into the garden ready to learn and help. They enjoy the magic and science of gardening while planting, tending and harvesting crops. They are thrilled to find the Earth’s gifts waiting for them to gather each week. And they learn of the people who need and benefit from the healthy food we grow throughout each season.
In 2022, our efforts attracted the attention of a local beekeeper, who asked permission to locate two hives within a 400 square foot area outside the perimeter of the garden proper. The addition of honey producing bees to the garden ecosystem spurred intense interest in the mitigating the impact of climate changes as well as reducing heedless use of herbicides and pesticides on the UUFH grounds, not to mention the surrounding suburban neighborhoods. In response, G2GG volunteers have introduced a substantial and cohesive grouping of pollinator species attractive to birds as well as bees. Our commitment to organic land management extends to the surrounding UUFH grounds. This effort will continue for the next several years as we strive to give back to Nature a fraction of what she has given us.
The 2020-‘22 years saw the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many people’s lives were decimated by illness, loss of income, and the enforced social isolation of lockdown. For many UUFH members, the garden provided a much-needed respite—a place outdoors—where one could engage, safely, in meditative and meaningful work, either alone or together. The original Social Justice underpinnings of the G2GG (to provide food to people in need), has been expanded to embrace fully the 7th UU Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The G2GG continues the connection with our earth and the food we grow that nourishes us for life, with fellow congregants of all ages, and with our larger community, our neighbors in need. We cultivate food. We cultivate giving and sharing. And we cultivate love and joy as we work together here in our G2GG.