The Garden Built for the People, By the People

Roshni Veeramachaneni, Staff Writer

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Driving down Hamlin Road, the Grow to Give Garden is immediately apparent. To the slight right of the Presbyterian Faith Church, it boasts fruits and vegetables that altogether comprise a bold rainbow.

The Grow to Give Garden was founded in spring 2018 by a small group of volunteers who attended Faith Church. 

“Our mission is to grow produce for people in need and in the local community,” Jayna Pyke, one of the volunteers involved since the beginning, said. 

She added that 75 percent of what is grown in the garden is given to the food pantry at the Rochester Area Neighborhood House and the other 25 percent is sold at the local farmers’ market. All proceeds from the market fund the cost of maintaining the garden.

For the first year, the garden was supported by Raising Rochester, a non-profit that encouraged community gardens in town. The organization had previously started gardens at McGregor Elementary School and other locations.

Raising Rochester has since disbanded as the founder, a pediatrician named Jay Mitchell, retired. But it has provided a number of tireless long-term volunteers, such as expert horticulturist Jane Pierobon, to the newly independent garden.

Our first year, we planted as all the Raising Rochester gardens: high intensity, square foot gardening. This second year, we have started a different approach and it was a great success.  We are guided by permaculture principles and a no-dig method,” Pierobon said.

Square foot gardening is a technique that separates gardens into sections of square feet, each of which contains a different plant. Permaculture, on the other hand, relies on plants living in harmony with one another without boxed restraints. This method is also notorious for discouraging digging, with its practitioners opting for using wetted paper or cardboard covered in mulch.

Currently, the garden is home to a multitude of fruits and vegetables: kale, spinach, okra, green peppers, apples, radishes, tomatoes, green beans, bean sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, watermelons, eggplants, onions, carrots, potatoes, and celery are just a few. Some herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, are also grown. In addition, there are the more unusual offerings like bakkana lettuce and “supermelon”, a sweet cucumber that looks like a watermelon on the outside. 

“We can grow fruits and veggies that you cannot find in the stores, and we pick them fresh and ripe so they are at peak flavor,” Pierodon said. 

This tradition of growing quirky food had began with Jay Mitchell. 

With such a large amount of plants being grown year-round, the Grow to Give Garden is always looking for more volunteers. Although affiliated with Faith Church, the garden welcomes those who are not Presybterians.

Pyke also mentions that the Grow to Give Garden is one of the few opportunities for smaller children to become involved in the community. Her own children have served as volunteers from time to time with some unforeseen but favorable effects. 

“[Because of the garden,] my kids sampled vegetables that I could never get them to try at home,” she said.

Both Pierobon and Pyke are optimistic about the garden’s future.

“I hope one year from now we will have closed on another successful year. I pray more people come out to the Grow to Give Garden to learn how to grow food and work the market garden. It is a great place to be,” said Pierobon.