Community gardens donate more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to needy

Milford’s Benson Crump Community Gardens received a certificate of appreciation Friday for donating more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to area food banks.

The community gardens is a collection of 135 20-by-30 foot plots at Eisenhower Park that residents lease for a nominal fee — $20 a year — and then harvest whatever they choose.

Today, the gardens are a cornucopia of vegetation, from lettuce to garlic to flowering plants.

Three of the plots are set aside for a program called Plant a Row for the Hungry, and at the peak of the season, these plots will be sprouting onions, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and cabbage, all destined to programs that help feed the hungry.

“We focus on really hearty vegetables that transport well,” said Linda Ball, director of the community garden program.

There are three primary tenders of the three plots: Paul Richards, Dave Stephens and Denis Troy, who all have their own garden plots at the park but also spend time on the three earmarked plots. There is also a fourth plot connected to the three that is filled with garlic, which will be sold at a garlic festival fund-raiser for the community gardens later in the year.

It’s hard to say much volunteer time goes into the gardens that help feed the needy. Stephens said the hours vary, sometimes he works on it in his spare time, and sometimes he’s there much of the day.

Richards said, “Getting it started is the hardest part. Then it grows.”

Of course there’s much to do after those plants start to grow, Ball pointed out as she walked through the garden plots Saturday morning.

There’s tending to fencing, weeding, watering, and minding the little creatures that would, if they could, gobble up a good amount of those vegetables.

The community gardens, which are all organic gardens, have existed in Milford 45 years; the Plant a Row program has been here about five years, after a program representative visited the Milford gardens and asked  Ball if she would like to get involved.

This is the first year the program was recognized by the Connecticut Food Bank with a certificate of appreciation.

While the certificate says the program delivered 1,093 pounds of food to area food banks, that was actually 1,300, Ball said, explaining that some food was delivered after the official tally was taken.

This year she hopes to deliver more than 1,000 pounds of produce again.

In the past, produce went to St. Mary’s Church for its food bank, but Ball said the church has now started its own garden to produce fresh vegetables.

The food also goes to St. Gabriel’s Church for its food bank, the Milford Christian Academy, a New Haven-based housing facility called Casa Otonal, the Beth El Center, Milford Senior Center food bank, and Home for the Brave in Bridgeport.

Food bank officials really love getting fresh produce to distribute with their canned and dry goods, Ball said.

Milford’s local farms also deserve credit for the donations. Ball said Milford farms like Glenndale, Filanowski’s, Rivercrest, Treat and Shamrock Farms in Orange, plus others in the area, help out where they can, some providing starter plants for the program, and others contributing plantings and labor to help the community gardens overall.