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Growing Gardens Receives $75K From Arbella Insurance Foundation 

Arbella Insurance Foundation recently made a commitment of $75,000 over the next 3 years to help Rachel’s Table at the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts expand Growing Gardens, which will support any of its 54 agencies to grow their own food in partnership with the people they serve. Growing Gardens is an extension of the 14-year-old Bea’s Harvest: A Gleaning Program of Rachel’s Table, which was started by beloved former Board member of Rachel’s Table, Bea Loevy, of blessed memory.

Growing Gardens kicked off last April with 640 starter plants donated to 7 agencies that Rachel’s Table Teen Board members helped to plant. Growing Gardens started with four partner agencies of Rachel’s Table that began the 2-year program, and each year a new cohort of 3-4 agencies will be added. The first cohort will include Christina’s House, a home for women and children in transition; Robinson Gardens, a low-income housing community; CSO’s Friends of the Homeless, an on-site mental health and recovery service; and the Church of St. Andrew’s, a church community that will donate 100 percent of its harvest to those in need. Each agency has different purposes but all support self-determination, independence, therapy, and education. The Growing Gardens program’s secondary goal is to develop an interconnected network of agency-gardeners who will collaborate to continue working together towards greater access to healthy food for all. After year 2, each agency will be responsible for finding their own funding with the continued support of the network of agency-gardeners.

Why now? Rachel’s Table is committed to helping the environment and people by moving surplus food to those who need it. Now, we are hoping to make a small but significant dent in the food system itself, by supporting people and agencies to grow their own food. This is why Rachel’s Table has now made it a goal to support partner agency’s constituent communities in defining what nourishment means to them and building and maintaining gardens that cultivate their sense of agency, empowerment, and physical and spiritual nourishment.

Springfield and many other areas in Western Massachusetts are considered food deserts. These are areas where fruits, vegetables, quality meats and other nutritious essentials are costly and difficult to come by. Residents often lack transportation to stores that have these products at reasonable prices. Instead, their neighborhoods have costly bodegas that do not provide fresh food at a sustainable price, or at all. Chips, candy, and fast food are the only options. In Springfield, many of those living in food deserts are also at risk of diabetes. The rate of diabetes mortality is 25% higher in Springfield than in the rest of the state, and nearly 60% of Springfield’s children are overweight or obese, according to the Springfield Food Policy Council. In Greenfield, food insecurity for children jumped 70% during the height of the pandemic. Rachel’s Table serves agencies in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Rachel’s Table is partnering with NOFA, Northeast Organic Farming Association, to help train and mentor participating agencies. Sister Anna Gilbert-Muhammad of NOFA is our Lead Trainer, and her expertise and knowledge dovetail wonderfully with RT’s staff and liaison’s background and support. Sister Anna will provide expert leadership for trainings throughout the growing season as staff and liaisons of Rachel’s Table will also teach, support and mentor partner agencies in each cohort. Jay Levine, Rachel’s Table’s Program Coordinator, is already creating garden plans with each of the four first-year agencies. Mallory Probert Caplan, a Rachel’s Table volunteer, has already taught sowing seeds in winter with milk cartons to children at the Rebecca Johnson Elementary School, seeds that will be planted at the Friends of the Homeless this spring as part of Growing Gardens.

The funding that the Arbella Insurance Foundation has offered Rachel’s Table is invaluable to ensuring the success of the program and seeding sustainable access to healthy food in our region. Join us in thanking Arbella Insurance Foundation! If you’d like to contribute to Growing Gardens, visit the Rachel’s Table website to make a donation.

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