Coogan Farm garden produces record seven tons of vegetables for the needy

Volunteers at Coogan Farm Nature Center's Giving Garden, from left, Hilary Wenzel, Jane Allen, Heather Perinis and Sherrill Janeiro bundle Swiss chard during the weekly harvest on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The harvest is picked-up each week by a truck from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center for distribution via its mobile food pantry. This week's harvest pushed the total harvest for the 2017 growing season to 13,898 pounds with several weeks remaining. The amount surpasses 2016's 13,089 pounds. The farm, started in 2014, produced just over a ton that year, with 3,500 pounds in 2015.   (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Volunteers at Coogan Farm Nature Center's Giving Garden, from left, Hilary Wenzel, Jane Allen, Heather Perinis and Sherrill Janeiro bundle Swiss chard during the weekly harvest on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The harvest is picked-up each week by a truck from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center for distribution via its mobile food pantry. This week's harvest pushed the total harvest for the 2017 growing season to 13,898 pounds with several weeks remaining. The amount surpasses 2016's 13,089 pounds. The farm, started in 2014, produced just over a ton that year, with 3,500 pounds in 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mystic — The Coogan Farm Nature & Heritage Center announced Tuesday that its Giving Garden, now in its fourth year of production, has donated seven tons of fresh vegetables to the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center this season.

The food center then distributes the produce via its mobile food pantries to 10 locations across the region. The vegetables were given to an average of 3,300 people a month, including almost 1,100 children.

Maggie Jones, executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos/Coogan Farm Nature & Heritage Center, said Tuesday she is thrilled how the community has embraced the garden, including the volunteers, community groups and schools that donated 2,700 hours of labor to the garden this season.

“Our little garden continues to have a huge impact, helping to improve food security for southeastern Connecticut families, including the families of children we reach through our school outreach programs,” she said.

This year’s harvest of 13,898 pounds, which is expected to increase over the next month or so, surpassed the 2016 production by 800 pounds. In 2015, the garden produced 3,500 pounds, and in 2014, its first year, 2,000 pounds.

Jones said that when the nature center was developing the plans for Coogan Farm, it wanted to maintain some element of the working farm that operated on the property beginning in the 1840s. It considered raising cows and pigs, growing trees and shrubs and other ideas. She said that’s when the synergy with the United Way developed to grow and distribute fresh vegetables which some families cannot afford to purchase.

“Clearly there was an unmet need in our community,” she said.

Jones said that using sustainable and environmentally friendly gardening practices to provide food for people embodied the nature center’s mission of connecting people to the land.

Producing the vegetables, though, does come with a cost for the nature center. Craig Floyd, manager of Coogan Farm, doubles as the garden manager, and the center relies on volunteer help, grants and donations to help fund the garden. Jones said the farm is always looking to close the gap between what it costs to produce the vegetables and the donations it receives.

Farm manager Craig Floyd pushes beets through his root vegetable washer as volunteers at Coogan Farm Nature Center's Giving Garden bring in the weekly harvest on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The harvest is picked-up each week by a truck from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center for distribution via its mobile food pantry. This week's harvest pushed the total harvest for the 2017 growing season to 13,898 pounds with several weeks remaining. The amount surpasses 2016's 13,089 pounds. The farm, started in 2014, produced just over a ton that year, with 3,500 pounds in 2015.   (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Farm manager Craig Floyd pushes beets through his root vegetable washer as volunteers at Coogan Farm Nature Center's Giving Garden bring in the weekly harvest on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The harvest is picked-up each week by a truck from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center for distribution via its mobile food pantry. This week's harvest pushed the total harvest for the 2017 growing season to 13,898 pounds with several weeks remaining. The amount surpasses 2016's 13,089 pounds. The farm, started in 2014, produced just over a ton that year, with 3,500 pounds in 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Volunteer Meredith Fuller pulls carrots during the weekly harvest at Coogan Farm Nature Center's Giving Garden on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The harvest is picked-up each week by a truck from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center for distribution via its mobile food pantry. This week's harvest pushed the total harvest for the 2017 growing season to 13,898 pounds with several weeks remaining. The amount surpasses 2016's 13,089 pounds. The farm, started in 2014, produced just over a ton that year, with 3,500 pounds in 2015.   (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Volunteer Meredith Fuller pulls carrots during the weekly harvest at Coogan Farm Nature Center's Giving Garden on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The harvest is picked-up each week by a truck from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center for distribution via its mobile food pantry. This week's harvest pushed the total harvest for the 2017 growing season to 13,898 pounds with several weeks remaining. The amount surpasses 2016's 13,089 pounds. The farm, started in 2014, produced just over a ton that year, with 3,500 pounds in 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Cassandra Meyer-Ogren, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, right, takes photos as Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center Giving Garden farm manager Craig Floyd loads the weekly harvest into a truck from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The harvest is picked-up each week by the food center for distribution via its mobile food pantry. This week's harvest pushed the total harvest for the 2017 growing season to 13,898 pounds with several weeks remaining. The amount surpasses 2016's 13,089 pounds. The farm, started in 2014, produced just over a ton that year, with 3,500 pounds in 2015.   (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Cassandra Meyer-Ogren, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, right, takes photos as Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center Giving Garden farm manager Craig Floyd loads the weekly harvest into a truck from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The harvest is picked-up each week by the food center for distribution via its mobile food pantry. This week's harvest pushed the total harvest for the 2017 growing season to 13,898 pounds with several weeks remaining. The amount surpasses 2016's 13,089 pounds. The farm, started in 2014, produced just over a ton that year, with 3,500 pounds in 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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