The Giving Garden at Coogan Farm raised 3,500 pounds of fresh, organic vegetables for the region’s hungry families, and reached 968 households in nine communities at the end of its second growing season.
Additionally, dozens of volunteers gave nearly 3,300 hours of their time to prepare the garden in the spring, plant, nurture and harvest the crops, and most recently ‘put the garden to bed’ for the winter. Groups from area churches, businesses, corporations, civic groups, as well as individuals from across the region, came to the garden regularly to pitch in.
“We are thrilled with the results of the first full growing season at the Coogan Farm Giving Garden,” said Virginia L. Mason, President & CEO of United Way of Southeastern Connecticut. “The fresh vegetables are so appreciated by the families who require our Mobile Food Pantry program. The produce harvested at the Giving Garden is making a tremendous impact, and it helps United Way to not only help those facing hunger but also ensure they have healthy food options.”
The Giving Garden, which is owned and operated by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, grew 26 varieties of fruits and vegetables that were distributed to feeding centers across New London County, according to Coogan Farm Manager Craig Floyd. Additionally, Floyd noted that seven types of ‘cover crops’ were also grown as a way of revitalizing the soil. In 2014, the Giving Garden was 1,600 square feet. In 2015, the garden was 30,000 square feet. Large boulders were excavated from the ground in order to make the space useable, and cover crops help to return the soil to its natural balance.
“We are very pleased with how the Giving Garden took shape this year under the guidance of Craig,” said Maggie Jones, executive director of the Nature Center. “When we made the decision to save Coogan Farm, part of what drove us - in addition to preserving critical watershed and habitat - was to restore the property’s connection to its 400 years of farming history. The Giving Garden allows us to keep the ‘farm’ in Coogan farm while benefitting a substantial number of our food-instable neighbors.”
In 2014, the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, United Way of Southeastern Connecticut and the Robert G. Youngs Family Foundation signed an agreement that created the Giving Garden at the Coogan Farm Nature & Heritage Center, 162 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic. The Robert G. Youngs Foundation provided the seed money and continues to support the Giving Garden. The Nature Center owns Coogan Farm. Coogan Farm is a member of Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CTNOFA).
“The garden this year was truly a community effort,” Floyd said. “We had teams from Pfizer who gave more than 700 hours. The Mormon Helping Hands gave us more than 240 hours. The Naval Submarine Base gave us more than 100 hours and Navy volunteers were instrumental in the construction of our greenhouse. The Eastern Connecticut Community Garden Association and All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church have been key to our success so far, as have Rotary Clubs from the region. The Rotary Clubs received a district grant that helped us to buy a tractor in the spring.”
Floyd also noted that he has had incredible support from local residents, including Dave Fairman, president of the Eastern Connecticut Community Garden Association, Maryrose Conklyn (236.50 hours), Jane Allen (162.75), Mike Herod (149.50) and Sarah Reskey (132).
For information on volunteering at the Giving Garden please call 860-536-1216.