How it All Started
In 2005, members of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Canton voted to adopt UShare as our church-wide social action project. The UShare projects aim has been to improve access to nutritious, locally grown food for families in rural St. Lawrence County. Our mission is to support and promote community efforts to grow, distribute, and enjoy wholesome locally grown food in the North Country.
A 2006 article in UU World tells the UShare story.
From Garden to Pantries & Markets
Volunteers organize and maintain two gardens on public land to which our project has been granted access – the Cecilie Garden, a 60’ x 60’ plot in Potsdam, and the Priest Field Garden, a smaller but productive plot near our church in Canton. Since we started in 2005 we have annually delivered roughly 2000 pounds of fresh, organic produce to 17 food pantries and neighborhood centers in 14 different townships. In addition, we have contributed produce to local community dinners, and our volunteers staff the EBT booth at Canton Farmer’s Market that enables families on food assistance to purchase their goods. We believe that by increasing access to wholesome, fresh food, we are not only restocking food pantry shelves and kitchen cupboards, but more importantly, we are broadening palettes and helping people gain an appreciation for fresh foods.
A Community Volunteer Effort
Building community is another goal of UShare. We bring together volunteer efforts from all parts of our church community--gardeners and non-gardeners alike. When we do our annual thank-you announcement in late fall, nearly two-thirds of the congregation is standing to be thanked for their contributions! For the past two summers we’ve had more than 140 volunteers, mostly from our church but also including community volunteers, members of the Presbyterian Church and the Congregation Bethel in Potsdam, and students from SUNY Potsdam, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence Universities. Our gardeners range in age from 4 to over 70, but all are able to contribute to the care of the garden at levels that match their age and physical abilities. Even our youngest gardeners are able to understand that the gardens grow food that is good for you and good to eat.
UShare volunteers do more than plant and harvest. Some volunteers help by preparing food for the large garden work parties that happen during the spring and fall, or by delivering produce to some of the more distant neighborhood centers and food pantries in St. Lawrence County, where our success is measurable in more than just pounds and number of pantries served.
Support from Others
The UShare Project has been supported by two separate $500 grants through St. Lawrence Health Initiative’s Eat Well Play Hard Community Project, funded by the NYS Department of Health. One grant was used to purchase a pump and hoses needed to fill the reservoirs of a drip irrigation system, the other $500 grant helped purchase supplies for a garden shed that was built for the Cecilie Garden. The shed was constructed by students in the Building Trades program at BOCES Seaway Tech Center in Norwood. Other student volunteers from St. Lawrence University started several of the seedlings for our gardens in 2009 and 2010. We have also received a troy-built rototiller, donated by the late Reverend Max Coots, that we use for our own gardens and would like to share with other community garden projects.
UShare has found a niche in the Unitarian Universalist Church and in our wider community. Every year the focus changes a bit, the volunteers reassemble in a slightly different , the sense of community among us and the gratification of working toward such a positive change is overwhelming for everyone who has helped out.