Gardeners give away fresh produce in Rumford

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Bob Withrow of Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities said through this program, people who don’t have a garden can “have the same fresh stuff we’ve always had.” (Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times)

Sandra Witas of Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities washes produce for the Wednesday night distribution at the Parish of Holy Savior in Rumford. (Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times)

Residents wait in line for the Wednesday night distribution of produce at the Parish of Holy Savior in Rumford. (Submitted photo)

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RUMFORD — There is a giant garden in Rumford tended by a group of volunteers called Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities.

Located between the Hosmer Athletic Complex and the Swift River on Lincoln Avenue, this community garden is somewhat unique in that the bounty from its three-quarters of an acre is given to people in need.

Started in 1999 as a project for a master gardener class taught by Barbara Murphy, these gardeners gather Wednesday mornings for the harvest.

“We usually have 10 to 14 volunteers arrive around 7 a.m. every Wednesday morning, and work for up to three hours,” Murphy said.

Murphy said it is a diverse group of volunteers drawn together by an interest in gardening and a belief that individuals working together can make a difference.

“In the past, we’ve grown everything from cantaloupe to cucumbers,” she said. “But what we’re finding is that the demand is increasing. We’re really focusing on the staples.

“We have multiple plantings of beets, carrots, greens, beans, broccoli and cabbage. Then we have the donations kind of fill in those other items — fruit, corn, etc.”

Murphy said Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities, known as GGHC, gives the produce directly to people in need rather than food pantries or third parties.

“So they actually get to meet the recipients,” she said.

The weekly produce distributions are held on Wednesdays, in partnership with the Parish of the Holy Savior, 125 Maine Ave.

There is a cooking demonstration at 5:30 p.m., with food distribution at 6 p.m.

The first distribution was July 25. Murphy said they will continue the distributions each Wednesday into October.

Sandra Witas, who was busy washing some produce for this week’s Wednesday night distribution, said the first distribution was “our biggest showing ever — 64 households, feeding 180.”

Murphy added, “We only pick fresh for the day, with the exception of cabbages.”

She noted it is not all about the gardening. There is plenty of conversation between the rows.

“We’re all the best of friends,” Murphy said. “This is a long-term, committed group.”

Those interested in volunteering at the Rumford garden should simply show up Wednesday morning at the garden or Wednesday evening during the food distribution. Or email gghc.maine@gmail.com for more information.

“Everyone here is an experienced gardener,” Murphy said, “but they don’t have to be to participate.”

She added: “Everyone should be involved in something that’s larger than themselves, whether it’s providing food, saving whales or starting art museums. This just happens to be our gig.”

Murphy said the garden got its start when three retired mill workers — Bob Withrow, Steve Hardy and Larry Hodges — “got this piece of land for us.”

All three are still tending the garden.

Withrow, formerly of Dixfield and now living in Weld, said: “It’s a fun group of people and it’s a nice thing to do. We’ve always grown up with vegetables in our family.”

Through this program, he said, people who do not have a garden can “have the same fresh stuff we’ve always had.”

“Most of the people have a garden at home,” Withrow said. “So they like to do it. And a lot of people have a garden too big for the family, so they share.”

Murphy said the GGHC volunteers also maintain a garden at the Park Street Garden at 197 Park St. in South Paris.

She said the two gardens, in a typical year, will produce about 5,000 pounds.

“Then we have donations of that amount, or a little more,” Murphy said. “We try to exceed 10,000 pounds each year of donated produce, between what we grow and what’s donated to us.”

“Everyone should be involved in something that’s larger than themselves, whether it’s providing food, saving whales or starting art museums. This just happens to be our gig.”

— Barbara Murphy, Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities

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