An unlikely sight rests alongside a parking lot behind St. Joseph’s Hospital in Nashua; corn, lettuce greens, beans, flowers, and much more bloom from a fenced-in, 6,000-square foot garden. For twenty families in need, the Grow Nashua program has supplied a desperately-needed food source that they can use again and again, while learning critical sustainability skills.
“I saw a need and I said, ‘How do we do this?’” said Justin Munroe, founder and Program Director for Grow Nashua. “There is a community plot in town, but it has a two-year waiting list.”
Many families don’t have the luxury of waiting that long, so about eighteen months ago, Monroe decided to take action. Forty-five plots of land, each measuring about five feet wide by fourteen feet long, now grow an abundance of vegetables for these local families.
“It’s the teach a man to fish mentality,” said Munroe.
With guidance from volunteers and a few local farmers, each family has become responsible for tending their own plots, learning skills that can provide food for themselves and their loved ones for years to come, while reaping the benefits in real time.
The families are all from Nashua, with between two and seven children. Even the kids get involved. There’s a children’s garden, which was planted from seed, and which encourages them to take an active interest in gardening.
The abundance that Grow Nashua has created is truly impressive.
“The garden has produced over 2,000 pounds of food this year,” said Munroe.
The secret to Grow Nashua’s success is three-fold: participating families are truly vested in learning life-long skills that produce short-term results; the staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital and the local community deliver support; and the garden’s wicking system, recommended to Grow Nashua by a local organic farmer, helps the garden thrive.
The wicking system consists of two 8-foot ropes on either side of sunken bucket, which run beneath each plot’s raised gardening bed. The bucket is filled with water, and the ropes are threaded into it. Since plant roots naturally burrow toward water, the result is a system that essentially waters from below; the fine root hairs exert enough suction to continuously pull water from the rope, which keeps the soil moist and the plants thriving. This way, families don’t have to water their plots as frequently, and the garden is less susceptible to a lack of rain.
Despite the success and enthusiasm within the Grow Nashua program, it still has hurdles to overcome.
“The challenge is how to sustain this momentum,” said Munroe. “We’re working to secure a two to three-acre plot for five families who really want to make farming their choice of profession.”
Grow Nashua plans to expand in a year or so, to another spot on the St. Joseph’s property that will be about three times larger … and therefore support three times as many families. Participating families may have an opportunity to earn some income from their plots at this time, however exactly how still remains to be seen.
Donations from Sunny Valley Farm and Lull Farm were critical to getting the garden started. Lull Farm in Hollis donated about 400 seedling plants to help start Grow Nashua.
Grow Nashua is an affiliate of the United Way of Greater Nashua.