• Group helping unlikely farmers to develop green thumb with vegetable gardens

    By: Bob Dumas

    Updated:

    GLOUCESTER, Mass. - Fish might be taking a back seat to arugula as the signature food in Gloucester if one woman has her way.

    Lara Lepionka has created Backyard Growers, a non-profit that’s covering the ocean front city with small vegetable gardens.  In the process, it’s teaching some unlikely farmers how to develop a green thumb.

    Last year for the first time, the Hinderlie-McLanahan family planted a 32-square foot garden in their tiny yard with the help of Backyard Growers.

    “We are committed to having organic food for our family, and with me leaving my job and our income getting cut in half, it’s pretty expensive,” Sarah McLanahan explained.

    The bounty from the garden surprised Erik Hinderlie.

    “This kind of raised bed gardening ... things do explode and grow very well and it kind of gives you this confidence boost," Hinderlie said.

    Those are the kinds of stories Lepionka loves to hear.

    Backyard Growers gives would be farmers the tools to grow their own food just about anywhere.

    “People are receiving free seeds and seedlings. They are getting a garden mentor from the community who helps them thru out the gardening season,” Lepionka said.

    All of this is to fulfill the overall mission of Backyard Growers.

    “Our goals are to increase access to fresh affordable produce, to help change attitudes and behaviors towards trying vegetables and enjoying vegetables," Lepionka said. "We want to re-activate neglected urban places for food production."

    Patricia Jackson is another returning farmer.

    She loved being able to garden, and is currently planning how she will lay out her vegetable bed this season. She said last year was the first time in 30 years she was able to grow her own produce.  

    These gardens are also creating a sense of community as people spend more time outside.

    “Now we feel like we know our street. We know our neighbors," McLanahan said. "We know our community because people are always walking by and saying, ‘I watched your garden grow all last year and it’s great to see you doing it again. It looks awesome.’”

    It takes a lot of grant writing and fundraising to keep the program going, but Lepionka said it’s something that needs to be done.

    “We have a great need here in Gloucester," Lepionka said. "One out of six residents use our local food pantry. Over half of Gloucester’s students are eligible for the school lunch program, so we have a lot of need here in Gloucester around food insecurity.”

    Backyard Growers has also developed a school-farm program, and they’re implementing that in Gloucester and other districts as well.

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