By M.E. Jones
HARVARD — For New Englanders, the late summer and early fall months are as ripe as fruit on the vine and bursting with flavor. In the small towns of the Nashoba region, for example, roadside stands and farmers markets crop up like crocuses this time of year.
Even grocery stores offer an array of fresh produce, some from local growers. Nutritious as well as tasty, tempting choices include leafy lettuces, snappy green beans and succulent squash in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
But not everybody has equal access to these seasonal delights.
“Some folks can’t afford fresh vegetables, never mind organic,” said Kim Manning, who founded Farm to Friend as an all-volunteer enterprise this year with a few helping hands and under the nonprofit auspices of the Harvard Farmers Market.
Jen Sundeen, one of that group’s founders, has a mission of her own, Manning said. “She’s always dreamed of Harvard becoming a self-sustaining community,” she said. Folks who raise chickens, for example, could share eggs with others who grow crops.
Manning’s vision branches the concept in a new direction. “Why not grow and share, but then give some of the bounty to people who are struggling?” she asked.
Some folks have a tough time making ends meet, even feeding their families, she said, and that should not be happening in a prosperous community like Harvard.
While charitable organizations such as Loaves & Fishes do a great job and work with groups in area communities to meet people’s needs, the food pantry stocks its shelves with nonperishable food items more than fresh vegetables, she said. That’s where Farm to Friend comes in.
Community supply line
Farm to Friend has no history to speak of yet, but Manning hopes it will grow and prosper. “It’s the community supplying the community,” she said.
Manning and her family have lived in town for about seven or eight years, she said, and she just started vegetable gardening this year, with mixed results. While her cukes flourished, other seedlings foundered. She plans to keep on trying, maybe with some hands-on help from her two kids.
Nine-year-old Ethan helped her deliver some veggies to Hildreth House last week, she said, while her 13-year-old daughter is still mulling the options.
Farm to Friend is a work in progress.
Operating under the HFM umbrella, “We approach folks who have gardens or want to” propose sharing their harvests with people in need, she said.
That was one end of the equation. To get started on the other, she called the Council on Aging. “They agreed to be our social-services department,” Manning said.
COA Director Debbie Thompson took it from there. Her agency will do the outreach, she said, aiming to ensure the neediest folks are served first, including homebound seniors.
“We’re partnering with (Farm to Friend) as the only social-services agency in town,” she said. “Kim reached out to me.”
Thompson explained that the COA agreed to handle behind-the-scenes legwork, networking via its confidential list of disabled or homebound seniors to identify potential program recipients, as well as others in town who might be outside the COA safety net but for whom the cost of fresh vegetables is too dear.
Not that COA lunches and Meals on Wheels are not nutritious. They are, Thompson said, “but that’s cooked food.” Fresh, raw veggies are healthy, delicious and harder to come by for some. “This program is designed to ensure we get to those homes,” she said, adding that it is “open to the community in general” as well as seniors.
Outreach efforts got an added boost after the MART dispatcher was moved from Town Hall to Hildreth House, she added.
Starting in August, which is the height of the local harvest season, donated produce brought to the Harvard Farmers Market will be home-delivered by Farm to Friend volunteers, all of whom will be CORI-checked, Manning said.
But Farm to Friend has already hit the road, delivering early spring vegetables to Hildreth House for COA volunteers to deliver.
Asked if the fledgling program is open to out of town recipients, Manning said it’s for Harvard residents only. Anything bigger would be too much for such a small operation to manage, she explained. Besides, it’s all about community and there’s no reason other communities can’t start similar programs of their own. “Any town can do this,” she said.
Anyone interested in learning more about the program may contact Thompson. The number to call is 978-456-4120.