PITTSFIELD — By this time next year, the Giving Garden will have given more fresh, organically grown produce to local food pantries thanks to a new hoop house.
The all-volunteer agricultural program of the Church of Christ on Valentine Road is raising a hoop house that will boost the amount of lettuce and red, ripe tomatoes it donates to the food pantries at the South Congregational Church and Berkshire Dream Center.
The 2,800-square-foot facility will be ready to use for Giving Garden’s 10th growing season in 2021 from April into November.
“We figure we’ll increase produce by 25 percent,” said project coordinator and church member Gordon Clark. “Fresh, garden tomatoes are very popular. With hoop house we can control the climate and bolster our growing season.
At 36 feet by 90 feet, the new, basketball court-sized structure is more than twice the size of the two small hoop houses currently being used on site. An $11,000 award from the state’s Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program paid for the larger hoop house material with church volunteers planning to put it together.
Unlike a traditional greenhouse, the lettuce, tomato and pepper plants are grown in the ground in a hoop house that uses a drip irrigation system to water the plants and solar produce electricity to operate the facilities.
In addition, Clark says volunteers tend to summer squash plants grown outside in the open air and plans to offer more varied gourd vegetables next summer and fall.
“People need access to good, wholesome food,” he said. “That’s what we’re all about.”
That’s also the mission of South Congregational Church’s food pantry, a benefactor of Giving Garden since 2013.
“It is such a gift to be able to distribute these fresh vegetables from spring into late fall to the 525 families we currently serve,” said food pantry coordinator Mary Wheat. “All the vegetables are popular, especially the huge boxes of tomatoes and green beans that come along with the varieties of lettuce.”