URI Master Gardeners create gardens at House of Hope, plan workshop on organic gardening

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The formerly homeless residents at House of Hope in Warwick have another reason to feel hopeful. Thanks to a team of University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners, they are learning about gardening and helping to grow their own vegetables and herbs.

Led by Master Gardeners Kate Aubin and Stephanie Trabucco, both Cranston residents, the project aims to engage the residents in gardening while also breaking down barriers with nearby neighbors.

They will also be sharing their knowledge with the community in a free workshop on the principles of organic gardening this Sunday, July 14 at House of Hope, 69 Fair St., Warwick, from 10 to 11 a.m. No registration is required.

“It’s a place where they can just go out and be in a calming, quiet, safe space, get their hands dirty if they want, and smell the flowers,” Aubin said of the House of Hope garden. “Once we get them more involved, they’ll feel a sense of pride in seeing what they’ve grown.”

“I like that we’re providing people with good food who probably haven’t had good food in a long time,” added Trabucco.

House of Hope Community Development Corp. seeks to prevent homelessness by providing permanent housing to homeless individuals and families while delivering the necessary services to ensure clients do not become homeless again. The organization started a garden at its Shippee Street facility in 2015, which was taken over by the Master Gardeners in 2016 and expanded to the House of Hope property on Fair Street.

Jackie Mercado, a case manager at House of Hope, was so excited about the garden that she even enrolled to become a URI Master Gardener to contribute to the project.

“It has been a beautiful opportunity to learn from the URI Master Gardeners,” she said. “I’m using my new found skills to show residents a sustainable way of living, bettering health, and helping rebuild their green thumb."

At Fair Street, the first garden constructed was what Aubin called a wheelchair garden – a raised bed enabling someone to tend the garden from a wheelchair.

“Bobby was so excited that we were making a garden accessible for him,” Aubin said. “It’s the perfect height for him, and he’s become very involved in the garden. He selected the plants he wanted to tend, and he’s out here regularly maintaining it.”

Four more traditional raised beds – each 4 by 8 feet in size – were constructed in the front yard, surrounded by a fence to keep out the hungry rabbits and woodchucks that live in the area. House of Hope residents were surveyed about what they wanted to have planted, and occasional house meetings are held to keep them involved.

“In previous years, the residents were happy to get whatever we planted, but they weren’t necessarily sure what to do with it,” said Trabucco. “This year we’re helping them learn what the food is, how you pick it, how you cook it, and how you store it. We’re getting them involved in the whole process of the circle of life of the food.”

About 20 local Master Gardeners helped to build the garden, and they all continue to put in time each week helping to maintain it as well. Occasional events are held on-site that include cooking demonstrations, food preservation lessons, soil testing and composting lessons.

“Part of the reason for the events is to bring the community to House of Hope to help everyone live together more peacefully and more comfortably,” Trabucco said.

“It’s really important to break down the barriers within the community, and we can do that in some way with this garden,” Aubin said. “When the neighbors see the garden and all the Master Gardeners working on it, they get excited and realize that we all can work together and get along.”

Mercado agrees, and she has already seen how the garden is bringing the community together.

“The garden has opened a new relationship for residents and their neighbors,” she said. “It has shown the mutual interest that we all have for horticulture, building positive interactions, and conversations.”

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