Tomato time! At the Ferry Street Farm, flower buds sprout and the first cherry tomatoes turn red and orange. Just a few feet away at the Incubator Garden, our Farm Manager Jacqueline gives an informal tomato-pruning tutorial for the gardeners around this evening. Farm-Based Wellness Program graduates (currently 30 individuals and families) are producing their own food in community garden beds with weekly support from NHF staff and interns, along with the New Haven Land Trust. Thanks to Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation’s Healthy Food Fund, Wednesday gardening sessions are open to all community members.
Tonight the gardeners observe and ask questions as Jacqueline prunes tomato plants down to two main stalks, a technique to encourage the plants to produce more fruit. Scott Dorau turns from observing the lesson to teach me about his past year with New Haven Farms.
A chef with a degree in nutrition, Scott struggled with weight, emotional eating, and mental illness when his Yale physician referred him to the FBWP last year to return to basics. He relearned the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, the nutritional value of white versus whole grains, and the sugar content in soda. He dove into the weekly challenge of creatively using his CSA share, blanching, freezing, and storing what he couldn’t use, experimenting and sharing new recipes with the others in the program. Scott recounts learning about food packaging by unit prices to figure out whether he’s really getting a deal. But most importantly, Scott learned “how to simplify things.” He didn’t just return to the basics of nutrition, but to the farm, to cooking from scratch, to making a meal out of what’s ripe for harvest–not unlike pruning the tomato plant of his eating habits.
As they spent time together every week–working, farming, learning, and eating together–they shared common hopes, challenges and triumphs. Establishing roots in a new community, Scott blossomed.
But Scott learned much more from his fellow participants than he did from the cooking and nutrition sessions. A white man who grew up on a farm in Vermont, Scott had to adjust to waiting for an English translation of what the Spanish-speaking participants were saying. He learned about the cuisines, cultures, and daily lives of people with whom he shares the city of New Haven but would have never crossed his path otherwise. As they spent time together every week–working, farming, learning, and eating together–they shared common hopes, challenges and triumphs. Establishing roots in a new community, Scott blossomed. He began to share his knowledge and experience as a chef with the group. He helped explain concepts when others were confused and suggested new meals to make with the weekly produce. Cutting through the isolation that resulted from his mental health issues, Scott received what he needed most—the chance to listen, speak, connect and be heard. “To have someone interested in you and giving you a hand is a good thing.”
The power of this community brings Scott back, a year later, to garden and keep growing. With his own plot and the resources to grow his own food, Scott thrives through weekly time in a communal space, learning from Jacqueline and the other gardeners and sharing his knowledge.
Scott received what he needed most—the chance to listen, speak, connect and be heard. “To have someone interested in you and giving you a hand is a good thing.”
While harvesting season only lasts through the fall, tomato plants have the ability to self-seed. Seeds produce fruit that will generate future harvests. The New Haven Farms community doesn’t end after a 16-week season either but continues to bear fruit, transforming seeds into seed-bearers and receivers into givers.
After Scott’s program ended last fall, the group continued meeting together each month to check in, support each other, and share a meal. Guess who cooked?
Jamie Cooper is the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute Impact and Marketing Intern at New Haven Farms, where she collects stories about the people and programs growing our mission of health and community development through urban agriculture.