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Amherst group seeks to inspire 350 vegetable gardeners

Grow Food Amherst, a collaboration among Sustaining Amherst, the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, University of Massachusetts Permaculture and other organizations, is starting the 350 Garden Challenge, in which growing more food locally in both the town’s public places and in neighborhoods is the objective.

“The idea is we are trying to think about how to do community gardening differently and encourage people to grow food independently,” said Stephanie Ciccarello, the town’s sustainability coordinator.

Ciccarello said Grow Food Amherst is encouraging people, even those who already do gardening on their property or in community gardens, to assist with the project and inspire others.

“We want people to grow food not just in their own backyard, but have opportunities to do this as a community,” Ciccarello said. “This is really a community project to help feed each other.”

The name of the challenge, she said, references the 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that scientists consider to be the threshold for maintaining a habitable climate.

Three free events will take place over the next month to help people interested in participating.

These begin April 18 at 6 p.m. with a Gardening 101 Workshop led by master gardener Charlotte Vesel at the Town Room at Town Hall.

Vesel will discuss the basics of gardening, followed by a question-and-answer period. There will be four work stations where attendees will learn basic techniques of soil testing, container and trellis gardening, how to build raised beds and techniques for making a “lasagna” garden.

Then, at the fourth annual Sustainability Festival on April 27 on the Town Common, a Grow Food Amherst booth will be set up where people can sign up to become members.

There will be demonstrations on pruning trees by Tree Warden Alan Snow at 10:30 a.m., goats controlling invasive species by the Goat Girls at 11:30 a.m., creating a “lasagna” garden by Vesel at 12:30 p.m., outdoor composting by David “Dr. Worm” Lovler at 1:30 p.m. and effective permaculture techniques by the UMass Permaculture group at 2:30 p.m.

On May 5, a living classroom workshop will be led by Sarah Berquist of UMass Permaculture from 1 to 3 p.m.

Ciccarello said Grow Food Amherst has been spreading its message through social media and a website, www.growfoodamherst.org.

Ciccarello said the project will continue in the fall when a seed saving workshop is held, a second annual gleaning event is staged in which volunteers get out to farm fields and remove edible fruits and vegetables left behind, and will conclude with a celebration of National Food Day in October.

Anyone interested in learning more about the 350 Garden Challenge should contact Ciccarello at 259-3149 or email ciccarellos@amherstma.gov.

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