BENNINGTON -- With the growing season here, activity at the local food shelf and affiliated community garden is picking up.
"Things are happening quickly over there, we’ve got an awful lot going on," said Sue Andrews, executive director of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, which runs the Kitchen Cupboard at 800 Gage St., along with the Bennington Free Clinic and the Food and Fuel Fund.
Nearby on Benmont Avenue is the Morgan Spring Community Garden, where the head volunteer is Mary McGuiness. Some of the plots at the community garden are donated to the Kitchen Cupboard, but much of the fresh produce comes from local farms, said Andrews.
She said the Kitchen Cupboard serves 1,200 families, which is about one in four in Bennington. The cupboard budgets $30,000 toward food.
Three grants awarded this year will help the Kitchen Cupboard purchase more produce from local farms. She said money has been awarded by the Vermont Food Bank, Southern Vermont College through the Bank of Bennington, and the Catholic Diocese of Vermont.
The grants total about $6,000, she said.
"All of them are focused on obtaining more produce so we can show people what to do with it," Andrews said.
Local farms such as Mighty Foods Farm, True Love Farm, Clear Brook Farm, Moses Farm, Wildstone Farm, and Polymeadows Farm, often donate to the kitchen cupboard, she said. In the case of Mighty Foods, that can mean up to 16,000 tons of produce in a season.
"We’re taking this concept of providing food to people experiencing a food crisis and turning it into more about, how do people who are economically challenged, as well as everybody else, make the best use of the incredible abundance we have in this area during the growing season," Andrews said.
The Kitchen Cupboard is open on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays 2 to 5 p.m. Cooking demonstrations are held at these times that teach people how to make use of some of the foods available, such as rainbow chard.
Andrews said volunteers do the cooking demonstrations. Some highlights have been teaching people how to make fries out of rutabagas instead of potatoes, or mixing low-cost salad dressing. She said the cupboard also plans to offer a six- to eight-week class on cooking using a curriculum.
McGuiness said since the community garden has been running, two people who use the Kitchen Cupboard have taken an interest in gardening to the point where they wished to become certified master gardeners through the University of Vermont Extension. The gardening program is offered all over the state via interactive television, and requires community service. The course is not free, but these two people were awarded scholarships and are completing the program at the local garden.
She said the Department of Corrections also assigns people doing community service to the garden. Some receiving 3SquaresVt benefits must also do community service to get them, and the garden works well for this.
McGuiness credited Brent Wasser, head of sustainable eating at Williams College in Massachusetts, with getting a $1,600 grant to build a composting bin at the garden. Wasser completed the master gardener program in Vermont and has got Williams College students involved at the garden.
She said half the community garden is rented out for plots, while the other half is a learning garden used by the Kitchen Cupboard and those going through the master gardener program.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.