Growing Friendships, Sprouting Community

'Hoop house project is about more than the veggies'

Date July 31, 2011 at 10:23 PM

Categories Green Living Home & Garden Outdoors & Recreation

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As synchronistic connections so often happen in Santa Fe, Many Mothers’ part-time program director Julie Peet was working her other part-time job at the Life Vessel when a friend and client began telling her about her desire to get families to eat healthier and reduce their carbon footprint by growing their own organic produce. She had this idea of creating a project through her foundation to provide “hoop houses” — intensive gardening greenhouses from a local company called Grow Y’Own — to low-income families to help supplement their groceries with nutritious vegetables. Her problem was that she didn’t know how to find and determine who those families would be.

For Julie, the solution was obvious. Many Mothers is a nonprofit organization that provides home-visiting care to Santa Fe moms with new babies. Though there are no income parameters for receiving the service, over 40 percent of Many Mothers’ families fall in the low-income bracket. Julie
could easily identify families in need whom she believed would have the interest and ability to work a garden and would enjoy reaping its benefits. Thus, the program began.

In spring 2010, Julie indentified four mothers who were thrilled to be offered the opportunity to have their very own hoop house. Two single mothers, with no previous gardening experience, had doubts about their abilities and thought it would be best to share a greenhouse together. Ken Kuhne, owner of Grow Y’own, personally set the moms up with his raised beds, each an intensive gardening greenhouse. He filled them with bedding materials and vegetable starts and provided the mothers with instructions for their care. When the two single moms discovered how easy it actually was, they decided they each wanted and could handle their own.

The houses come with two covers: one for summer that screens out the intensive ultraviolet rays that can burn delicate young plants, and a heavier one that shields the plants from winter’s cold. The raised bed has a screened bottom to keep burrowing critters from coming up from underneath and eating the tasty veggies. As the growing medium is pure and organic, there is little opportunity for weeds to get in and crowd out the produce. This allows the bed to be entirely filled with healthy edible delights.

When the program funder decided she wanted to continue this project in 2011, Julie needed to determine who the next families would be.

“I pondered who might be a good candidate,” she said. “‘Good’ to me is someone who couldn’t afford to buy a hoop house, who could use some nurturing in their new life as a parent, someone with a permanent space, who was interested enough in gardening to find the time and energy to put into it. I thought of Maia, a mom of twins, who had been served by Many Mothers. I knew she had been suffering from postpartum depression. She had been laid off from her job and has two babies who would benefit from the fresh veggies. And, her husband is a chef — someone who could get creative with the harvest! Maia was very interested. It felt like a perfect fit.” And it was.

This spring, four new families received free hoop houses through this collaboration. At a gathering in March, Kuhne provided the families with information about the project. Angie, a recipient in 2010, brought a salad for the group with produce that she grew in her hoop house over the winter.
Everyone enjoyed the delicious fresh greens and was surprised to have homegrown produce so early in the season.

Each of this year’s new recipients is being paired with one of last year’s, who will serve as a mentor. The experienced moms will share expertise to help the new ones be more successful. Last year, for example, follow-up visits to check on the gardens revealed that some moms were “loving” their
gardens too much; some vegetables had turned yellow from too much watering. With the hoop house’s self-containment and protective covers, water does not evaporate as quickly as when vegetables are planted in the ground and exposed to open air.

Another mom didn’t realize she could pick off some of the first-growth of her leaf lettuce as it continued to sprout new leaves. Her lettuce got tough and bolted before she had a chance to enjoy it. However, she was able to replant and enjoy lettuce later that summer.

This spring, Maia’s garden had a rocky start. “Somehow we got an infestation of cutworms (moth larvae) and they pretty much decimated half of the initial starts,” she explained. “We replanted, and even though a few of those starts were munched, the rest are thriving. Ken has been great! He gave advice on what to do for the cutworm infestation. He even offered to totally start over if we needed to, but we didn’t. We have put in a drip system and I have put in carrots and beets, in addition to the greens that Ken brought. Both Jesse and I love to garden and have wanted to put in a covered raised bed for years, so this has been really exciting for us. It’s going really well now.”

As part of the responsibility for being given this gift, the families will share any excess produce with other families in need. Last year, one mom traded her excess salad greens to another family, which shared their excess chickens’ eggs in return.

Many Mothers knows from direct experience that today’s new moms are often isolated when home raising their children. Many do not have family and friends readily available to give support and lend a hand. Many Mothers’ volunteers share their expertise to help a family with its
practical, educational and emotional concerns. Their support helps moms feel physically renewed and psychologically empowered to meet the daily challenges of raising a family. Family members are supported in attachment and in bonding, so crucial to a child’s life-long physical and emotional
development.

This hoop house project is in alignment with Many Mothers’ overall goals of giving support to families with new babies and building healthy relationships. This hoop house project gives the moms not only assistance around their gardening venture but a way to connect with others for peer support. It isn’t just about growing vegetables. It’s also about growing friendships that help build a healthier and more connected community.

To find out more about hoop houses, visit www.growyown.com, or contact Ken Kuhne by phone at 505-466-0393 or 505-490-1849, or email at tbird@cybermesa.com.

To learn more about Many Mothers’ services or about becoming a volunteer visit www.manymothers.org or call 505-983-5984.

Sue Dean is the executive director of Many Mothers

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