Seed to Supper Takes Root in Putnam

By Sarah Scott-Cruz and Emilie Gurnon

vegetable and fruit harvest spread out on grass

Becca Ligrani joined Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Putnam County in February of this year as an Environmental Horticulture and Natural Resources Community Educator. With a degree in Conservation Biology and a Masters in Extension Education focusing on community food systems under her belt, Becca hopes to broaden the current reach of Seed to Supper (S2S). When Becca arrived, the S2S team was already in place. The team was comprised of volunteers with expertise in vegetable gardening and also those interested in working with children. In only a few months, Becca has envisioned new iterations of S2S program for coming years and will soon meet with the volunteer team to begin planning for 2019. Becca expressed a two-year goal: focusing on structure, organization, and familiarizing herself with the program the first year, then focus on expansion and recruitment in her second year.

In the Brewster community, S2S began in a small garden at the Southeast Cultural Arts Coalition. The partnership with the Coalition is somewhat informal, but their values align well with S2S and with CCE, so the partnership has been strong. The Coalition has a history of offering space free of charge to organizations; thus, the S2S program found a home in the Coalition’s art gallery. The classes also have developed raised beds for gardening in the parking lot.

The Coalition partners with the Westchester Community College (WCC) through the Kathryn Davis Global Community Scholars internship program. This unique setup increased S2S’s reach, attracting Latinx and immigrant communities to participate. Many of the interns are bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English, and are able to serve as translators between staff, volunteers and participants. Becca speaks of the partnership between the interns and S2S as a major asset since it has allowed the program to be taught in English and in Spanish, which is crucial for tailoring programs to the specific needs of the Brewster community. The interns also spearheaded a simultaneous children’s program at S2S which provides free childcare and education onsite for families. Participants with children remarked that this was their favorite part of the program.

Food justice and insecurity do not always emerge as key issues in Putnam County, since it is one of the wealthier counties in New York State. One of the challenges of prioritizing food insecurity is that Master Gardener Volunteers may not always live in communities with high food insecurity. Becca hopes that putting time into Master Gardener development, by way of trainings and course feedback, will improve individuals’ teaching skills and cultural humility particularly in working with diverse audiences. Becca is preparing Master Gardeners to be relatively autonomous at the Garden Around the Corner (the garden at the Coalition, so she can move on to initiating S2S elsewhere. Becca hopes to improve awareness of food insecurity in the community and make space for individuals seeking to garden on a low-budget and in small spaces. To increase participation from all communities, Becca proposes promoting the programs in faith-based organizations because they are safe, existing community gathering places that often own land for gardens.

Most importantly Becca highlighted the joy she finds in the work that she does. She finds her work both challenging and humbling with the most rewarding parts being community building, the positive feedback from S2S participants, and seeing the Master Gardener Volunteers lead successful programs.

Sarah Scott-Cruz is a senior majoring in Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and
Emilie Gurnon is a senior majoring in Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

This story is part of a series of S2S educator profiles that were developed as an assignment in PLHRT 4270: Seed to Supper, a two-semester course sequence that offers an opportunity for students to learn facilitation skills and to engage intensively with Cornell Cooperative Extension educators. Building communities and relationships is the core of the NYS Seed to Supper (S2S) program. The beginning gardening experience gives novice gardeners the tools they need to connect with others in the community, grow in confidence, and successfully grow a portion of their own food on a limited budget.

Additional Seed to Supper educator profiles: 

Photo provided by Becca Ligrani