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Free plants help families grow food

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CANTON - Tina L. Matthews no longer has to rely on grocery stores for fresh produce.

By mid-summer she hopes to be plucking tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables from her own backyard garden.

The mother of seven is participating in a new partnership that provides food stamp recipients and other low-income families with an assortment of free vegetable plants.

Three weeks ago, Mrs. Matthews headed to Nobles Farm, Route 68, where she picked up pepper, zucchini, cucumber and tomato plants that were planted in a patch behind her Hermon home.

“I’m hoping my children get a sense of where their food comes from,” she said. “The economy is bad. We really have to live off what we have.”

Catherine E. Mathews, Canton Church & Community Program director, said her agency is offering the garden plant program though a partnership with GardenShare, Canton Farmer’s Market, the food stamp program and area farmers.

Ms. Mathews said she wants her clients to experience the satisfaction of growing vegetables themselves.

She encourages people to participate when they visit the second-floor food pantry her agency operates at 95 Main St. This spring, 52 people signed up. Each received 36 plants or 72 plants depending on the size of their families.

“They’re being empowered to make their own decisions about what they want to eat,” Ms. Mathews said. “When they harvest the product, they will be proud of it.”

In the past, a limited choice of vegetable plants were available to low-income families and few people participated, Ms. Mathews said.

This year’s program is off to a much stronger start.

“We’ve diversified the types of vegetables they can choose from,” she said. “Now that they have so many choices more people want to apply.”

Some of the clients are also eligible to receive food packages using discounts and food stamps.

“It’s been a really good community partnership. Everyone wins,” Ms. Mathews said.

Gary R. Noble and his wife, Wendy L., said they enjoy teaching participants about different vegetables and how to get a garden started.

“I grew up on a farm,” Mr. Noble said. “I like sharing what other people have showed me.”

The Church & Community Program serves residents in the towns of Canton, Pierrepont, Russell, Hermon and Dekalb. The agency can be reached at 386-3534.

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