Article originally published in The Middletown Press
MIDDLETOWN >> For an hour each Tuesday, a small group of MARC: Community Resources participants trek to the Community Health Center’s roof to care for their garden, armed with buckets and tools.
MARC provides educational, therapeutic, rehabilitation and social services to children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities and behavioral health challenges.
The garden is made up of six plots, five for vegetables and one filled with herbs.
“We started planting a month ago,” said Lori Lodge, director of development at MARC. “There’s garlic, radishes, strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and peppers among others.”
In this second year of the program, MARC “consumers,” as they are known, are assisted by members of the Middletown Garden Club, who teach them gardening skills.
“A lot of the time we are gardening by ourselves,” said Jane Harris, an arborist and Middletown Garden Club member. “This way we can teach new gardeners. We have six people from the club on the committee and we each take a bed. It’s the most fun we’ve ever had.”
Larissa Gionfriddo, advocacy director at MARC, said gardening provides a host of benefits for the consumers who benefit from the tutelage, social aspects and camaraderie that Community Health Center staff and the garden club members impart to each other.
“It’s the community coming together,” Gionfriddo said. “It encourages people with disabilities. Sometimes it can be hard to get out of the house and this gives them physical activity and they learn about nutrition.”
“It allows people in the community to get to know the consumers,” Lodge said. “We’re all alike on the inside.”
The consumers follow the garden’s progress, through the planting to weeding, harvesting and cooking.
And there’s an important philanthropic mission to the program. “We give back to Amazing Grace at the end of the summer,” Gionfriddo said. “We entice the consumers to try new food and also incorporate cooking.”
Another benefit of gardening is the consumers taking responsibility for parts of the garden. “They take great pride in what they grow,” Gionfriddo said. “They take ownership of the plant and see it grow.”
With the garden situated on the roof, the group doesn’t have to worry about animals eating their crops or even bugs — a common concern in horticulture. “You don’t even see mosquitos up this high,” Harris said.
“Everyone is excited to see how the garden progresses,” Lodge said.