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New Canaan gospel garden gets computer upgrade

Published 5:12 pm, Thursday, September 2, 2010
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St. Mark's Gospel Garden began in 2009 with a mission to bring fresh produce to the New Canaan Food Pantry. In March, 15-year-old Girl Scout Janelle Girardi devised a plan to help maximize the potential of the garden. Girardi's idea served as her project to earn her Silver Award from the Girl Scouts.

"Originally, I was talking to the food bank and thinking about doing a project there," she said. Girardi has volunteered at the New Canaan Food Pantry for the past several years.

Girardi's idea came from a combination of her volunteer work, her new garden at home and assistance from her advisor. Girardi created a solar-powered computer system to monitor the garden.

"At first, I was just going to make a chart," she said.

The computer system runs on an Excel program chart, with volunteers entering their names and what they accomplished in the garden to keep track of the work being done. A solar panel is installed on a shed near the garden to power the computer.

She also created a three-bin composting system. Girardi and Girl Scouts from her troop created the three bins, where compost is cycled. The compost begins in one bin and moves through the others as it degrades, said Girardi.

"I think they'll get more healthier and bigger produce because of the compost."

According to Brian Hollstein, co-founder of the Gospel Garden, before the garden began donating fresh produce, all the food pantry had was dried and canned food. Hollstein explained that Girardi's plan allowed the garden to keep a more careful record of what is growing and where.

"We're using french concentrated techniques," he said. "The moment something comes out, another goes in."

The solar computer keeps track of every square foot of the 18 garden beds, including how many plants are in each bed and the condition of the soil.

When speaking of Janelle's accomplishment's, Hollstein explained this garden was a full community effort.

"I'm very proud," he said. "It's not things I did, but things the community has done."

Hollstein continued, "I think it's admirable that the community in general has seen the importance of this."

Other Scouts have volunteered in the garden as well. Girl Scouts help maintain the garden, while Boy Scouts have constructed the walkways. According to Hollstein, a Boy Scout will complete the remaining walkways in the Gospel Garden with leftover stone from a church patio as his Eagle Award Project.

The New Canaan Food Pantry is open every other Tuesday and serves between 100 and 120 clients each time, according to Maggie Downes-Angus, one of the volunteers who run the pantry. The pantry has been running for about 10 years. According to Downes-Angus, the client response to the fresh produce from the garden has been positive. About a year ago, the pantry did a survey, which included a question about the addition of fresh produce. "Overwhelmingly, [the clients] responded that they wanted the program to continue," said Downes-Angus.

Girardi said she is proud of what she accomplished, but is "kind of relieved that it's over with."

Girardi believes she will go out for her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts, but she can't start planning for that until after school has started.