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Catholic Charities greenhouse has bumper crop of goodwill - LoHud

HAVERSTRAW - Martha Robles is feeling the midday heat of a midsummer day. 

The executive director of Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland County stands in her "Garden of Love" community garden brimming with ripening tomatoes and zucchini, with jalapenos and herbs. She mops her brow in a futile effort to cool down.

Then Robles does the unthinkable on a sweltering day: She steps into a greenhouse, where it is even hotter, its plastic roof trapping the heat inside.

And Robles beams.

“Year in, year out, we’ve been praying for this greenhouse,” she says.

The first layer of the greenhouse roof has just been installed by workers who then took a break because it was just too hot. But Robles is too excited to let triple-digit heat inside the greenhouse keep her out. 

The structure represents progress, an answered prayer, and you don’t let heat keep you from answered prayers.

Food with dignity

Robles apologizes for talking too fast, but she has a lot to say.

The longtime advocate for Rockland’s most vulnerable residents has spent more than a decade pushing officials — elected and otherwise — to treat her clients with dignity and respect. The greenhouse is Robles’ latest success story.

It means the growing season doesn’t end with the first frost. It means there can be lettuce and more fresh produce to supplement the canned and dried goods the hungry of Rockland County get when they come to the food pantry.

It also means that the plants can be seeded in the greenhouse next winter before taking root in the soil next spring. 

In that way, the greenhouse is like the work Robles does with her four-person staff and dozens of volunteers: helping the hungry to put down roots, to survive despite long odds.

Catholic Charities has had a Garden of Love for 10 years. That's nine harvests.

Jim Cropsey, of Rockland’s longtime farming family, has been helping to plan the garden each year for a decade, arranging the spring seeding that, by late summer, becomes zucchini and tomatoes and herbs and jalapenos.

“We really want to offer healthy, nutritious food, but we’re in a bind because it’s very expensive and growing it means we can only offer it for a small period of time,” Robles says.

The garden means fresh produce, Robles says. It also means dignity for the more than 700 families that use the food pantry each month, no questions asked.

“They can get produce that was picked the day they come, or the day before,” Robles says. “Then we asked members of the community to share whatever extra produce they might have grown.”

If your garden grows “a gazillion tomatoes” and you only need a half a gazillion, Robles will gladly accept whatever part of your bumper crop you won’t use.

The food pantry sponsors cooking demonstrations from local restaurants, including Union Restaurant and Bar Latino. Clients recently learned how to prepare zucchini flowers.

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