A team from UConn Extension’s Master Gardener Program who supply a local food bank with fresh vegetables will find it much easier to tend to the Bloomfield garden next summer, thanks to an anonymous gift to the UConn Foundation.
This spring, about 10 of the garden beds at the UConn 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm will be raised to make them handicap-accessible and the entire garden will be outfitted with an automatic irrigation system. The Master Gardeners, as well as community volunteers, harvest about 4,000 pounds of organic produce a year at Auerfarm for Connecticut Foodshare.
The construction project will raise eight beds to wheelchair height, while two other beds will be built so that gardeners can sit on a shelf around the edge while they work. The project will make it easier for all volunteers, including children enrolled in 4-H programs and those visiting on class trips, to reach the garden.
“This is going to create a tremendous amount of interest in the garden and inspire people to volunteer,” says Marlene Mayes, lead volunteer for the master gardener program at Auerfarm. “It’s going to be much easier for kids and the public to garden there.”
In addition, irrigation tubing will be installed in the raised beds and 30 existing beds in the program’s garden, replacing an inefficient garden-hose-and-sprinkler system.
The donor made the $28,000 gift after recently visiting the quarter-acre garden.
“After meeting some of the hard-working team of Master Gardeners who have devoted themselves to the garden at Auerfarm, and as a devoted supporter of Foodshare, I wanted to help make the work of providing fresh vegetables to Foodshare clients a little easier and a lot more efficient,” the donor says. “The change to raised planting beds and automatic irrigation will help make everyone’s efforts more productive. Many thanks to all of the volunteers who do the physical work to support the garden.”
About 30 to 40 Master Gardeners volunteer every year at Auerfarm as part of a community service project they must complete as part of the Master Gardeners program, Mayes says. Auerfarm is one of five locations across the state where a total of about 200 gardeners work to complete community projects.
The Master Gardener program, run by UConn Extension, provides hybrid online and in-person classes on horticultural gardening, diagnostics, and plant identification, says Bonnie Burr ’83 (CAHNR), the department head of Extension.
The donor’s gift underscores the broader impact of the UConn Foundation in Connecticut’s communities, not just on campus, Burr says.
“Often people think ‘Oh, there’s a name on the building or there are other things that are happening only on campus,’” Burr says. “This kind of a gift really highlights the fact that the UConn Foundation works with our outreach and extension programs to have a direct impact on community well-being. Master Gardeners and 4-H volunteers are learning how to plant crops and how to harvest, and they’re giving back to the community through the fresh produce that goes to Foodshare.”