Last fall, Greg Horner heard that the could use more basic produce.
Horner, president of Hamilton-Wenham Green responded: “We can do something about this.”
As Horner saw it, the solution to Acord’s appetite for tomatoes and lettuce was to call on local gardeners. In an announcement of the initiative “Grow A Row” on the organization’s blog in May, Horner invited volunteers to lend their gardens and their time. Now with 35 participants just three months later, the program is off to a spectacular start.
"We would kill for more tomatoes," Acord director Deb Baker told Horner last spring.
"So with some lights that fell into my lap, some wood and some compost I built a planter in my basement," Horner said. "In March I had 200 tomatoes growing in my daughter’s bedroom."
Fast forward to mid-July.
“People are already dropping off greens,” said Horner adding, “It’s early still for tomatoes but we expect a great harvest.”
Baker is thrilled.
“We get two to three huge bins of produce on Wednesdays and Saturdays from ,” she explains, “But instead of lettuce and tomatoes we might get things like bok choy.”
Less familiar vegetables - such as bok choy - confound some cooks, Baker confides.
Baker’s enthusiasm for “Grow A Row” is an even match for Horner’s.
“It’s so cute, the Grow A Row people are so excited when they come in,” Baker said about the volunteers.
And being a participant herself, she understands.
“My daughter and I have two tomato plants (and so far) we have two very small tomatoes growing,” she said of her crop.
Horner who is one of Hamilton-Wenham Green’s seven unpaid staff members helps insure the program’s success by sending out a steady flow of tips to the volunteer growers. With an intent to keep motivation and inspiration high, he advises on how best to water tomatoes (at the roots keeping leaves dry) and how to watch for signs of blight.
As for the tomatoes and lettuce, Horner explains that the seedlings he provided growers include seven varieties. Rutgers University donated old time Jersey tomato varieties such as the Moreton and the Ramapo. High Mower Seed of Vermont donated Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce and a variety of carrots.
“I asked them to give us anything they have a lot of," said Horner. "I let them choose.”
Horner - who has a Bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Middlebury College and a Master’s degree from the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan - is ready to give credit where it’s due.
“We’re not the first, other towns around the country are doing this, including Boston,” he said.
Regardless, Horner and Hamilton-Wenham Green’s volunteers have fully embraced the idea and are raring to do more.
“I’d love to see the program expand and get a longer season with earlier crops and later crops and partner with other farms in the area," Horner said.
"We’d also like to begin gleaning,” he said, speaking of a practice whereby slightly blemished produce that can not be sold commercially is harvested.