In its first growing season, the Giving Garden at Coogan Farm netted more than one ton of fresh produce for the region’s hungry families, providing everything from radishes to tomatoes for dinner plates across New London County.

With a harvest season of Aug. 6 to Oct. 3, the garden produced 2,088 pounds of radishes, chard, kale, tomatoes, peppers, turnips, beets, and scallions. The produce went to 11 of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center’s feeding sites, in seven communities, and fed about 3,300 individuals (see chart below, from the United Way).

In February, the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, United Way of Southeastern Connecticut and the Robert G. Youngs Family Foundation signed an agreement that created the Giving Garden at the Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center, 162 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic. The Robert G. Youngs Foundation provided the seed money in the form of a grant to the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center to create a two-acre garden. The Nature Center owns Coogan Farm.

“We are so pleased to see the Garden growing — the fresh produce makes such a difference in the lives and health of our neighbors in need,” said Lisa Tepper Bates,  executive director of the Robert G. Youngs Family Foundation.  “Bob Youngs, who loved New London and the County and whose generous gift helped make this possible, would be so proud.”

Said Nancy L. Rossi, managing executive of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center: “The Food Center’s Mobile Food Pantry guests have been delighted with the abundance of fresh vegetables harvested from the Coogan Farm Giving Garden in this short inaugural season.  We look forward to an expanded harvest in 2015, which will enable the mobile pantry truck to reach even more children, seniors and families, providing nutrition and fabulous locally grown produce throughout the community!”

Ground was broken for the garden in April, with the arrival of 5 Berkshire pigs that were donated by Chad Frost of Mystic. ‘Nature’s rototillers’ were assigned to clear the area of overgrowth, invasive species, roots, and anything else that was in the way.  The first plot was adopted by the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation of New London. Church members were an invaluable asset throughout the spring, summer and fall with the garden.

The United Way staged its annual Day of Giving at Coogan on June 23, and by the end of the day, three plots of the garden were on schedule for planting. Between 75 and 100 volunteers spent all or part of the day at Coogan Farm, shoveling, raking, spreading seaweed and mulch, clearing brush, cutting bamboo, and planting vegetables. The event was sponsored by Mohegan Sun, which supplied the majority of the volunteers.

“Our first season was remarkable, thanks to the dedication of staff and volunteers from many organizations and communities, from our FIT (Farm Implementation Team) leaders, the folks at the United Way, and dozens of volunteers who helped prepare the beds, plant and harvest vegetables weekly,” said Nature Center Executive Director Maggie Jones.

“We got a late start clearing the area designated for the garden, but with the help of 5 hungry Berkshire pigs, mechanical beasts, man- and woman-power, (and lots of composted  eelgrass and wood chips) the area was transformed and planted by early summer. With beautiful organically raised plants donated from various sources including GMO Free CT and Eastern CT Community Garden Association, Grasso Tech high school and the New London Magnet School, an ample water supply, plenty of sunshine, and fencing to keep out deer and other resident wildlife, the quality and quantity of garden  produce quickly exceeded our expectations,” Jones said.

The Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center distributes food to 63 programs that serve 91 feeding sites across New London County. The food bank distributes 2.7 million pounds of food annually.

Plans for the 2015 Giving Garden are already well under way, according to Steven Dodd, chairman of the Coogan Farm Implementation Team. Work this fall and winter will double the size of the growing area, and Garden Manager Craig Floyd is creating a plan that is expected to triple food production. Giving Garden financial sponsorships are available, and a plan to grow the ranks of the volunteer support the Garden saw in 2014 is being developed. In addition to volunteers and financial donations, the garden needs a tractor.

As a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, the Giving Garden “nicely meshes with the Nature Center’s environmental mission and creates new opportunities to broaden our programs and audience,” said Jones.

“The creativity and vision that went into the idea of a Giving Garden began many months ago. The generosity of the Mohegan Sun to providing man- and woman-power to accelerate the preparation of the garden in early June was an act of true community,” said Virginia L. Mason

President and CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut. “We look forward to a long partnership and to living the dream of spreading the produce and its nutrition all over the county — to so many who need supplemental food. We are thankful to DPNC and its staff and volunteers.”


Distribution SiteAvg # Households ServedAvg # Individuals Served
Jewett City – St. Mary’s Church101271
Sprague – Sprague Community Center85264
Norwich – NFA137500
Norwich – Three Rivers Community College81261
Taftville – Wequonnoc Family Resource Center82294
Groton – St. John’s Christian Church123361
Groton – Groton Human Services113304
New London – Thames River Apartments101356
New London – Walls Temple A.M.E. Zion Church102364
Stonington – Stonington Human Services122263
Salem – Town of Salem2868

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