November 30, 2021

Groton program offers materials for making boxed garden

A plot grows

Travis Dunn/contributing photographer

Jason Oliver explains how to water kale at an orientation event Wednesday night for participants in the Groton Harvest Committee Garden Plot Program.

GROTON — Call it a garden in a box: Some assembly may be required.

It’s just a wooden square, 4 feet by 4 feet, and, if you signed up for the Groton Harvest Committee Garden Plot Program, it will be delivered right to your door, with mulch, plants, seeds and even instructions.

A pretty good deal, good enough to bring about two dozen residents to the Groton High School cafeteria Wednesday night.

Dan Parker was one. He attended with his 2-year-old, along with his wife, Emily, who caught the tail end of the presentation after coaching their 5-yearold twins in a T-ball game.

Parker, who said he’s not much of a gardener himself (“I don’t have a green thumb”), wants his kids to learn from the program so gardening is a natural and easy thing for them.

Plus he’s got plenty of room at home: He owns a 6-acre plot in the village, and he hopes the little box will gradually become something bigger.

Groton has been called a food desert, although a U.S. Department of Agriculture program doesn’t list it as one. It hasn’t had a grocery since the 1990s and the closest stores are 13 to 15 minutes away by car — very difficult for people who cannot drive or have little access to transportation.

In the gap, community programs are providing food through food pantries and at the Groton Public Library, and farmers are selling crops directly to consumers.

This program is another way to address the issue.

Funded by the Park Foundation of Ithaca, the Garden Plot Program will give participants all the materials and information they need to grow, maintain and harvest their own small backyard garden.

The point is not only to help residents grow their own vegetables, but also to help teach children healthy eating habits at a young age.

“If we can catch them when they’re young, maybe they’ll grow up making good food choices,” said Kelley Neville, food services director for Groton Central School District.

Jason Oliver, who teaches agriculture classes at Groton High School, assured participants the garden box system was quite simple.

“I’ve been doing this with seventh graders, so it’s foolproof,” he said.

If participants encounter any problems along the way to growing their tomato plants and kale, the program offers help, from a Facebook page, to a “growline,” to troubleshooting Web sites, in addition to the detailed plans and instructions that come with the plants and seeds.

“We are not just going to drop off the plants on June 8 and never speak to you again,” Superintendent Margo Martin told participants. “It’s a project we want to do with you, and not just walk out the door and leave you to yourself.”

For anyone in Groton who missed out on the program this year, don’t despair. Martin said the program has five years of funding, so a new crop of backyard farmers can sign up for next year.