Growing pride, adding flavor: New Horizons Soup Kitchen serves organic vegetables grown in own greenhouse
By PAT GROSSMITH
New Hampshire Union Leader | June 03. 2016 9:55PM
The addition nearly three years ago of a 30-by-72-foot greenhouse, built on a lot next to the Manchester Street kitchen and shelter, has elevated the meals, resulting in organic salads served daily and entrees seasoned with fresh sage, oregano, basil and other herbs, all organically grown in the inner city greenhouse.
The tastier food, which Executive Director Charlie Sherman says is greatly appreciated by everyone eating at the soup kitchen, came about when the city deeded a lot to New Horizons right next door. Mike Marret, co-owner of Rimol Greenhouses of Hooksett, was a volunteer driver for the nonprofit who suggested a full-size greenhouse be installed on it.
Marrett, who fellow volunteers call “The Garden Angel,” donated the $26,000 greenhouse and volunteers lined up to work in it.
For nine to 10 months of the year, organic vegetables and herbs are grown in the greenhouse in compost made from vegetable peelings and scraps. Carlos Morales, who manages the kitchen at New Horizons as well as Families in Transition, said no fat or meat is included.
One day in May, mesclun, Asian greens, kale, beet greens, romaine and spinach were soaking in ice water in a large plastic bin in the kitchen to loosen any dirt. The vegetables made it to that night’s dinner that included bread and butter, wraps, pasta, a salad and dessert.
Every day, 250 organic salads, seasoned with fresh herbs (dry in the winter), are served.
Sherman said the organization could never afford to buy organic vegetables. Before the greenhouse, New Horizons spent $50,000 a year on produce. Today, it costs about $35,000 because the greenhouse supplies about 2,500 pounds of vegetables annually.
Kate Hogan, coordinator of the greenhouse collaborators (volunteers), laughs when she gives the poundage. She knows the exact amount, she says, because every leaf, every tomato and vegetable is weighed.
Hogan, an educator for 50 years, grew up on a family farm in Iowa.
“We had a huge garden, as long as a field,” said Hogan, who has taught kindergartners to college students.
For a time, she lived in New York City where she worked with Save the Children, putting in gardens on empty lots and planting sunflower seeds in small bare spots of soil.
Manchester’s greenhouse began operating in August 2013. There was a learning curve, Hogan said, because the temperature is hot in a greenhouse, which she said plants love, growing larger than those outdoors. Insects love those conditions as well, however, and one year the volunteers had to deal with aphids, a gardener’s and farmer’s worst enemy because of the damage they cause.
Growing season begins on St. Patrick’s Day, a day volunteers dub “The Greening,” when they plant their living mascot shamrock in one of the raised beds. The earth continues to provide produce up to November.
In March, the volunteers get to work preparing the beds for planting, adding in the compost prepared by Robert Brouillard, the “Compost King.” This year, they had far more than they needed.
“It’s black gold,” Sherman says.
He has not tried his hand at gardening and apparently never will.
“My hands have never touched dirt and I am darn proud of that,” he says. “They want to keep the plants safe so they keep me away from them.”
By mid-May the first plantings of greens are just about done. But cherry and plum tomatoes and cucumbers are already well on their way, as are scallions. Peppers and onions will soon follow, and later in May, school children will arrive at the state’s only full-size, inner city greenhouse to plant the zucchini they’ve grown from seeds in classrooms, as part of the Hunger Project.
They know their effort will help feed the hungry. Sometimes, Hogan says, one of the children will stop by with their parents to see how the plant is doing.
“All the kids want to do it but not all the teachers want to do it,” laughs Hogan, who for the last 10 years worked in city schools as a substitute teacher.
All kinds of herbs are grown in the greenhouse as well: sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, culantro (also known as Mexican coriander), basil. When they start to get old, the herbs are picked and placed in a dehydrator. Overnight, they are dried and make their way to the kitchen, providing herbs all year long.
The greenhouse has been a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Outside, for a touch of color and beautification, planters are filled with flowers.
“People walking by say thank you,” Sherman says.