Back in April 2020, during the most challenging months of the spring pandemic, Larchmont resident Lisa Chase read a story in the New York Times about a Rhode Island neighborhood planting victory gardens in their backyard. They pooled gardening and crop harvesting labor (maintaining proper social distancing by working six feet apart), and overcame pandemic isolation to create the sense that they were all in this together.
Right around the same time that she read this article, Lisa – a volunteer with the Larchmont/Mamaroneck Food Pantry – had a front-row seat to the community increase in food insecurity due to Covid-19. She knew something had to be done and became inspired to create project Hortus Victoria, which is Latin for Victory Garden. Lisa emailed seventy-five local families asking “What if we all plant victory gardens to create a communal farm of sorts, and donate our crops to the Larchmont /Mamaroneck Food Pantry?” Fifty-plus families wrote back with versions of: “Count me in!”
Once the Hortus Victoria project came to life, it was off and running with lots of support near and far. A carpenter in Maine built and shipped 3 x 6 raised-bed kits, and nurseries sold the group seeds and seedlings at cost. During six weeks of summer, the fifty families grew kale, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, zucchini, Swiss chard, garlic, onions and pole beans. They also grew tomatoes, but resident squirrels and birds feasted on them before any could be picked.
As each vegetable was harvested, family farmers delivered their produce every week to the Food Pantry where volunteers packed bags for local resident-clients of the Food Pantry. No donation was too small. Sometimes the harvest was just a handful of peppers, and other times it was grocery bags full of cucumbers. In all, the Hortus Victoria families donated approximately 350 pounds of vegetables to the Food Pantry which were delivered to about 15 families a week. Amidst the isolation and stress of the pandemic, Lisa said that sharing home-grown harvests made everyone who participated feel that they were doing something good and significant – they were neighbors helping neighbors.
Hortus Victoria will be back in 2021 and some lessons Lisa learned this year are: Get started in January, not April; plant early, but not too early; and, if you want to be sure you can harvest tomatoes next time, build better fences!