COVID-19 made the 2020 summer garden program in Plymouth, Massachusetts, uncertain, but UMass Extension’s SNAP-Ed partners found a way to make it succeed, and how! This 4-year-old community gardening program reinvented itself and, in the process, provided safe and healthy food for many families and households in town.
Throughout the years, this program—a partnership of SNAP-Ed, local nonprofits Terra Cura, Healthy Plymouth Collaboration, and Plymouth Public Schools—has been working on SNAP-Ed Framework Indicators MT5/LT5 (Nutrition Supports adopted and implemented) to increase access to locally grown produce. It has accomplished this through gardening programs, nutrition education, and introducing families to many new recipes, but the Coronavirus pandemic posed new challenges and different needs. To address these challenges, the partnership instituted and followed guidelines for volunteers to safely plant, maintain, and harvest five of the twelve community gardens. The guidelines were developed in cooperation with school principals and the district superintendent and were based on Massachusetts state protocol. The scope of the guidelines included scheduling and capacity limitations in garden locations to ensure adequate social distancing as well as personal and equipment hygiene practices. Guidelines were posted at each garden location. From these gardens, 550 pounds of locally grown fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs that were harvested and made available to those in need.
Where did these 550 pounds of food go? The fresh produce was distributed to families in Plymouth at summer food distribution and meal sites, elderly meal pickup sites, and food pantries. Produce consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, kale, squash, lettuce, green peppers, dill, basil, and thyme. For example:
- Tomatoes (40 pounds!) were used to make sandwiches and salads for students and their families through the Plymouth Public School’s Food Service Department.
- Fresh basil was turned into pesto for 66 pickup meals through the local Council on Aging.
- Garden produce was available to families at the Hedge Elementary School summer meal pick up site where breakfasts and lunches were served!
Said one volunteer, “A lot of people who picked items from the garden shared what they would be making—like tomato sauce, salads, and Mexican dishes. The recipients of this garden program were always grateful and happy to take home some items. I truly enjoyed watching the garden grow and seeing how it made a difference in many family's lives.”
Families also received MyPlate shopping bags, copies of Chop-Chop family cooking magazine, healthy recipes for meal planning, and Nutrition Bites, developed by UMass Extension’s SNAP-Ed. Each issue of Nutrition Bites provided information on food access resources in Massachusetts, physical activity ideas, food safety reminders, and recipes.
Now that procedures are in place for safe food growing and distribution, the SNAP-Ed partners hope to have more of their 12 gardens in action this summer, helping to reach and support local families by making the healthy choice the easy choice.