Master Gardeners Launch Initiative to Connect Residents to Local Food Systems

KINGSTON, R.I (WLNE) –  URI Master Gardeners announced the launch of an initiative to encourage residents to develop stronger connections to the local food system before and after the pandemic on Wednesday.

The new initiative encourages people to grow a portion of their own food, compost their food waste, and donate a portion to local pantries.

The initiative also encourages support locally-grown food by attending farmers’ markets and purchasing products from the local section of supermarkets.

“Our food system focus area has a new sense of purpose and urgency as the pandemic has revealed the fragility of the global food system and increased demand for food assistance,” said Vanessa Venturini, state coordinator of the Master Gardener program, based at URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences.

“A strong local food system is one where Rhode Islanders not only have access to healthy food, but they have the knowledge to grow a portion of their own food and compost their food waste. It’s one where consumers choose locally-grown food and where children have access to school gardens, connecting people to healthy food from a young age,” she continued.

In partnership with Hope’s Harvest RI, a Pawtucket-based organization sponsored by Farm Fresh Rhode Island, the Master Gardeners will organize volunteers and collect produce from local farms, so that they may deliver them to hunger relief agencies.

The practice is called gleaning.

Hope Harvest RI has gleaned over 100,000 pounds of produce in the last two years.

The Master Gardeners also plan to partner with the Southside Community Land Trust in Providence to help community gardeners be more successful in growing their own food.

Master Gardeners will especially target recent immigrants who want to grow food from their native countries but who may not be familiar with local growing conditions.

“We’re especially excited about this because we’ll be helping local residents grow food from around the world and teaching people how they can still have culturally appropriate food in Rhode Island by growing it themselves,” said Venturini.

“It will be a fun challenge to work with people who speak so many different languages, but we hope that with the use of pictures and local translators we’ll succeed in helping local residents get their hands in the soil and grow their own food.”

The Master Gardeners look to establish “teaching plots” to demonstrate gardening strategies at the Charles Street Community Garden and the Brattle Street Garden in Providence.

They are also looking to do this at the Garfield Avenue Community Garden in Central Falls.

Master Gardeners are also partnering with more than 70 schools around the state to help establish and sustain school gardens as outdoor classrooms to connect children to their food from an early age.

According to URI, more than 40 new school garden mentors will be trained this spring through the Master Gardeners’ web-based School Garden Academy.

“We are rapidly adapting to web-based teaching methods, with an emphasis on vegetable gardening classes for those interested in ‘victory gardens’ to increase their food sovereignty,” Venturini said.

The new initiative is expected to last at least 3 years.

Free gardening webinars and are available through the URI Cooperative Extension website at



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