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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Food Growing Program Feeds Nutritional, Educational Needs: New Farm Co-op Programs

Douglass DeCandia, coordinator of the Food Growing Program

When the Food Bank for Westchester launched its healthy eating initiative, the Food Growing Program, it tackled several problems at once—providing fresh produce to low-income and other communities, making sustainable use of vacant land, and teaching people how to grow and prepare healthy food.

Through the Food Growing Program, the food bank collaborates with community partners to identify unused arable land, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. The staff farmer works onsite with area residents to help them plant and grow much-needed fresh produce for the community’s own consumption. A staff nutritionist is also on hand to explain the importance of healthy eating, providing recipes and offering creative ways to prepare the fresh food.

The Food Growing Program operates farm gardens at the NY School for the Deaf, the Westchester Land Trust, Woodfield Cottage Secure Detention, Leake and Watts, and the county jail. A new development in the program is the creation of farm co-ops. “The farm co-ops are a new addition to our Food Growing Program,” says the program’s coordinator, Douglass DeCandia. “Shepherds Flock, the YWCA of White Plains and the ARC of Westchester are farm co-ops that we have started.”

Shepherds Flock, the Yonkers farm co-op, is located at a men’s drug addiction treatment center. DeCandia helped the center’s residents and staff design and start the garden with plants and start-up funding provided by the food bank. The garden will be used to supplement residents’ meals and the center’s health and nutrition program, and it will also teach the residents vocational skills.

The same model was followed to establish a farm co-op at the White Plains YWCA, where approximately 190 women live. As with the Yonkers co-op, the food bank staff consults with the White Plains co-op on an ongoing basis, but the residents maintain the garden, which provides educational and vocational training along with plenty of fresh produce.

Not all sites are in low-income neighborhoods, DeCandia adds. “We work with a wide range of folks, young to old, from many different demographic areas,” he says.

Want to help? The program welcomes groups of five or more volunteers for one-day projects, DeCandia says. “They come to the garden and we get a lot of work done,” he says. “It’s easier to coordinate groups than individual volunteers.” And financial support for the program is always appreciated; donations can be made through the food bank website.

For more info, contact the food bank at 914.923.1100 or [email protected], or visit