Food Growing Program: Feeds, Teaches, Heals: Douglass DeCandia will help others follow model
Feb 26, 2014 06:09PM
● By Kazaray Taylor
The Food Growing Program of the Food Bank for Westchester, now in its fourth year, tackles three big missions at once: to make good use of fallow land, to provide vocational training for people at risk, and to feed the hungry. While some of its benefits are immeasurable, a single statistics—50,000 servings of food produced last year alone—speaks volumes about the success of the program.
“The Food Growing Program is an organic vegetable farm and vocational training program for at-risk youth and adults,” says Douglass DeCandia, the program’s coordinator. “The Farm consists of five gardens located at schools, the county jail and a juvenile correction facility in Westchester County. Together with the help of the volunteers (students, inmates and other community members), I grow vegetables and herbs that the Food Bank distributes to the over 200 hunger relief agencies throughout the county.”
Last year 12,500 pounds of produce were grown on what had been unused land at five locations: the Leake & Watts Residential Campus in Yonkers; the New York School for the Deaf in White Plains; Sugar Hill Farm-Westchester Land Trust in Bedford Hills; the Westchester County Department of Correction in Valhalla; and Woodfield Cottage Juvenile Correction, a Leake & Watts facility in Valhalla.
The plants are started at Muscoot Farm in Katonah, whose owners have donated use of their greenhouse for that purpose. The volunteers at each of the gardens get “first pick” of the produce, and the rest is delivered to the Food Bank for Westchester. The gardens produce fresh, local, organic produce for both the “farmers” and the individuals that the Food Bank for Westchester serves.
Healing properties of a garden
The Food Growing Program provides a down-to-earth solution for feeding the hungry, and it teaches the almost-lost art of growing our own food, using available, vacant land.
The program also does something more, DeCandia says. A garden has healing properties, and the simple practice of gardening provides what he calls “agricultural therapy.”
“The well-being people experience from gardening comes from both working outside and being engaged in good, wholesome work,” he says, “and also from connecting with nature.”
DeCandia knows that feeling well, having “experienced” many different gardens despite his relatively young age. After growing up in Katonah, he studied sustainable agriculture and development at colleges in Vermont and North Carolina; he also traveled around the country learning sustainable agriculture first-hand. After graduating in 2009, he returned to New York and managed a small vegetable farm in Brewster for a year before starting his work with the Food Bank for Westchester.
DeCandia is both pragmatist and poet—with nature as his inspiration.
Start your own food garden
The program DeCandia has nurtured is a model that others can follow, he says—and in fact, he offers his assistance free of charge, through the Food Bank for Westchester. “Many times organizations are open to starting a garden but don’t know how to proceed,” he says. “I can offer phone and email consultations, with a site visit prior to the phone consultation, to help educate them as much as possible. I teach people how to do it themselves. It’s not as hard as you might think.”
Workshops and classes
In addition to running the Food Growing Program, DeCandia holds public workshops and classes on gardening, beekeeping and ecological agriculture. “My hopes are to be always open and to learn, to share with others what I have come to learn,” he says, “and to experience the wonders that each moment in this great place can share.”