Ten volunteers from Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, a nonprofit therapeutic riding program, spent Wednesday morning kneeling in the dirt, picking and washing lettuce and cabbage at a new 1,400-square-foot community garden at Franklin Arthur Farms in Smithtown.
It’s a scene Kieran Lannon, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society, which owns the farm and manages the garden, hopes to see repeated often by more groups and individuals. The garden officially launched on April 21 after five years of planning and starts and stops.
The garden, which will operate from early spring to late fall, will primarily provide organic produce to local food pantries and offer educational programs. It now serves the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry and, with already a surplus of crops -- now only lettuce and cabbage but soon to include onions, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers -- is looking to add more clients.
“We’d hate to waste food,” Lannon said. “We have the surplus, we’ve got to spread the wealth.”
The historical society is also developing a pilot program it hopes will launch in the fall with the Smithtown Central School District. Through the program, students will volunteer to maintain the garden and learn about agriculture.
Historical society spokeswoman Kris Melvin-Denenberg said that among the goals of the community garden are to educate food pantry users about the benefits of growing vegetables at home and to teach them gardening methods.
“Local food pantries are in dire need of fresh produce,” she said. “Many food pantry clients can’t afford produce at the supermarkets, and a lot of the food that’s available at food pantries now is loaded with preservatives.”
Volunteer groups will undertake the brunt of the garden’s upkeep. In addition to Pal-O-Mine, local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and other community groups have already volunteered, said Melvin-Denenberg.
“Volunteers will really keep this place going,” she said. “Right now, outside of volunteer groups, we get one or two volunteers a week. We have three staff members tending to the garden regularly.”
Kimm Schmitt, a job coach at Pal-O-Mine, said the experience for the group’s volunteers -- which included six disabled adults in its Job Security Through Equine Partnership program -- was “great.”
Lannon said he is confident about the garden’s future. “We have enough community support, volunteer group buy-in and passion. That’s all we need. That goes a long way.”