ROCHESTER — A local urban agriculture program for children has been putting down roots in its greenhouse since 2009, and the program is working to branch out.
The Grow Green program, which is located on Dr. Samuel McCree Way in Rochester across from Wilson Foundation Academy, teaches kids how to grow, sell and cook with fresh produce. It has long had a connection to the nearby St. Monica Church.
Grow Green operates a booth at Westside Farmers’ Market, which operates from mid-June to mid-October from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays in St. Monica’s parking lot, 831 Genesee St., Rochester. The program also has been strongly supported by several St. Monica parishioners.
The partnership between Grow Green, the farmers’ market and the parish is just one example of "green" initiatives growing at area Catholic parishes. Several parishes in the area have planted community gardens that grow food for members and charities, and Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford is a drop-off location for a community-supported agriculture program that also provides food for charities.
At Grow Green, youth development is one of the main goals. For instance, students staff the farmer’s market booth to learn entrepreneurial and business skills, said Lisa Barker, program manager for Grow Green, which is a program of the Southwest Area Neighborhood Association (SWAN).
"(The market is) a great outlet and a great asset to the community," Barker said.
In addition to produce and houseplants grown at Grow Green, the booth also stocks granola produced by Small World Food and loose and bagged herbal teas from the local tea company Hallelujah Tea. The teas include some herbs grown at Grow Green.
Grow Green’s garden grew out of a memorial project that SWAN had started with youths connected to Wilson Foundation Academy’s Student and Family Support Center Grief and Loss Groups. Produce is grown in grow boxes and raised gardens without any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The construction of a greenhouse on vacant lots across from Wilson Foundation Academy marked the official start of the Grow Green program.
"The goal was to provide an outlet and educational resource for kids and families, especially kids in the afterschool program," Barker said.
A hydroponics system was added in 2010 through a United Way grant to teach children about growing plants without soil. Additionally, the program has a worm-composting setup that has proved extremely popular with the Grow Green students.
The garden this year is growing tomatoes, peppers, collard greens, kale, lettuce, basil, eggplant, peas, beans, cucumbers, radishes, garlic, onions, strawberries, squash and broccoli. The garden also is growing herbs to sell at Boulder Coffee and at 1872 Café in Rochester.
Students are involved in all aspects of growing, from seed starting and transplanting to weeding, Barker said. She said she also talks with young people about food accessibility.
"We really work to involve kids on as many levels as we can," Barker said.
Produce from the garden also may soon be sold at a new grocery store run by SWAN that is under development on West Main Street in Rochester. Some produce also is used during cooking classes in which students learn how to cook with fresh vegetables.
Grow Green’s latest outgrowth is an arts program called SeedFolks, a play about an urban garden started by a young girl that is based on a book by Paul Fleischman. This is the second year that Grow Green students will present the play; it will be performed at 6:30 p.m. May 16 at the auditorium at Wilson Foundation Academy, 200 Genesee St., Rochester.
Barker said the program has had great success in connecting with young people who have struggled in school.
"It’s empowering and it can be lifestyle changing," Barker said.
A lifestyle change also is a goal of several gardening initiatives at Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford. The parish offers a community garden in which families can rent plots to grow healthy, fresh food. Produce also is grown in the garden for local food charities.
"Half the property is for the community, and half is for family plots," said Jeanette Zavislan, a member of the Care for God’s Creation Committee at Transfiguration.
The idea for the garden grew as an alternative to a plan to put housing on the campus at Transfiguration, Zavislan said. Organizations that have received produce include Blessed Sacrament Parish, St. Martin’s Place, Pittsford Food Cupboard, Open Door Mission, St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality and St. Michael Church.
In addition to the community garden, the parish offers a community supported agriculture program using produce from Fellenz Family Farm. Families pay at the beginning of the season for produce, and it is then delivered weekly to Transfiguration. The goal of the program is to provide those who are interested with access to food grown locally and organically.
People do not have to be members of Transfiguration to participate in the CSA, which is in its sixth year of operation. Families that are unable to pick up their produce for the week have the option of donating that produce to such area charities as Pittsford Food Cupboard.
"(Farmer Andy Fellenz) has been helpful both with getting the community garden going and also with donating additional produce that he cannot use," Zavislan said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on the Transfiguration CSA, contact Annette at 585-223-9252 or Jeanette at email@example.com or visit www.fellenzfamilyfarm.com. Grow Green will welcome volunteers at its next volunteer day from 10 to 3 p.m. May 11. For details, call Lisa at 585-943-0786. The program also accepts donations of gardening tools, equipment and plants.