Few actions make as much of a difference to a local community as providing fresh, healthy food to those who need it most. That’s why New Horizons of New Hampshire, a Manchester, NH-based soup kitchen, food pantry and emergency shelter, does just that, providing food to over 900 households a month. While most of that food is donated by a wide variety of local businesses, much of the fresh produce is actually grown on-site - and it’s done in a high-quality, reliable Rimol greenhouse.
But while providing a much-needed relief valve for families and individuals in need is more than an admirable goal, it’s only part of the solution - and at New Horizons, they know it takes robust community involvement by people of all ages to make a real difference. That’s why they’re passing what they know down to those who will carry it on in the years to come: local students.
On June 1, New Horizons invited several local elementary school classes to visit for a tour of the facility, and even offered students a chance to get involved and plant their own seedlings in the greenhouse, which will later go on to provide healthy, nutritious food to those who come to the shelter for food.
Watching a partner organization not only put their community greenhouse to excellent, community-oriented use, but to also pass that knowledge down to the next generation of givers, offers an inspiring example of the industry-leading thinking typical of Rimol greenhouse owners.
Engaging in Community Service
The strong partnership between Rimol Greenhouse Systems and New Horizons for NH began back in early 2013 with the donation of a 30’ x 72’ Polycarbonate greenhouse, now located on what was once an empty lot owned by New Horizons adjacent to the shelter.
However, the connection between Rimol and New Horizons started even before that, with the addition of our co-owner Mike Marett to the New Horizons’ team years ago.
“From a business perspective, when this opportunity came up, we jumped on it - you know, giving back to the community,” said Marett, who took students on a guided tour of the facility and greenhouse personally. “From a personal perspective, I’d always been looking for ways to give back with my family - to teach my kids and get them involved in this and that. This was one of the opportunities we had, which was serving food. My kids participated in it with me, and that’s when we got a team together. It’s been a great partnership ever since.”
It was with this relationship in place that Marett first started discussing the possibility of a Rimol greenhouse donation with longtime New Horizons volunteer Kate Hogan.
“Working with [New Horizons Executive Director] Charlie Sherman and Kate, we got together a group of volunteers - just random people, who had an interest in gardening,” said Marett. “With me there, a Rimol representative - being a grower and a maker of greenhouses - we started growing the exact food the kitchen needed to make daily meals. Anything they couldn’t use, we give away.”
Seeing a need for fresh, nutritious veggies and an open space adjacent to the facility where a greenhouse could fit, Mike organized with Rimol to donate a brand-new community greenhouse to the shelter. The structure was delivered in early 2013 for its first round of planting and the program has only taken off since then.
Since then, New Horizons has even incorporated an educational opportunity to the program - and visits like the ones made by local schools last week illustrate just why that’s such a rewarding effort for everyone involved.
Students Take A Trip Through The Life Cycle of a Community Greenhouse
For even the average group of school kids, a trip to a greenhouse is found to be fun - especially when it comes with the chance to get small hands a little dirty. But the trip takes on an even greater significance when some of the children coming to tour have visited New Horizons with their families for assistance in the past.
For third-grade students of Wilson School, Gossler Park School, Bakersville School, and St. Casimir School from the Manchester area, this connection to local giving meant literally being able to put some food in the ground - zucchinis, to be exact. Each class, in their months-long studies of the plant life cycle and the methods behind growing food, experimented by growing seeds of their own.
These seeds (now seedlings, complete with shoots and small leaves) have been raised by the students to the point where they’re ready to be planted - and into the New Horizons beds they went, dug in by small hands (some getting their first taste of hands-on gardening) to grow under the safety and protection of the Rimol greenhouse.
Eventually, these zucchinis will be used for fresh food at the shelter - some of which may even go back to the families of these same students. With luck, seeing these zucchinis growing and giving back to the community that brought them to life in the first place will teach the students to someday do the same.
“The most important - and most valuable - thing to teach students is the value of giving back,” said greenhouse volunteer Kate Hogan. “They may seem young now, but we hear kids passing by point to their plants and tell their parents ‘That’s my zucchini, that’s my plant, etc.’ We hope they develop those feelings and get involved more as they get older, and working in the greenhouse is a great way to do that.”
Regardless of socio-economic background, a trip like this gives students an intimate look into just what it takes to put food on the table - and brings out a greater appreciation, and even an interest in helping out on their own.
Why Rimol Is Dedicated To Giving Back
When it comes to assessing the value a greenhouse system can bring to a community, few feelings top that of seeing not only community members actively engaged in the growing process, but the younger generations as well. They’re the ones who will carry and grow programs like New Horizons into the future, and it’s critical they understand just what’s needed and how to get it done.
“The volunteers took it upon themselves to coordinate the compost bins. They brought it here, and they learned how to do it. They really took it on, and it grew to what we see right now,” said Marett of the four-year compost program. “If we could teach the kids how to bring that skill back to the school, that would be a huge success from our perspective.”
Of course, the challenges facing New Horizons are not easy, and they never have been - the Queen City has long had a homeless problem that has sorely needed attention, and community-driven solutions like the New Horizons greenhouse provide a much-needed relief valve for those most in need. Plus, the challenges of operating in an urban environment aren’t exactly minor either.
“We had lots of concerns here: security is one, being in the middle of the city, would people destroy the place etc… We planted flowers, but didn’t know if we’d even get bees! We just sat back to see what would happen,” said Marett. “But the bees have come; nobody has done a thing to that flower garden - to the contrary, you’ll be working in there and have someone stop and just say ‘Thank you, this is beautiful.’”
It’s that level of community engagement - recognized by just about everyone involved, from volunteers to food recipients - that makes the system work so well, and that will encourage more and more young people to continue to become involved with New Horizons for years to come. For Rimol, few uses for a greenhouse system make more of a positive, tangible difference on a daily basis - and that’s exactly the kind of work we love to see get done under the protection of a Rimol system.
“It makes [locals] feel happy and proud,” he said. “I’m just absolutely amazed. The community respects it and takes care of it, and passing that on to the next generation is just awesome.”
Keeping community-based shelters and pantries like New Horizons up and operational into the future is undoubtedly going to take new, innovative approaches to food production. With an urban community greenhouse like the Rimol high tunnel at New Horizons, this crew manages to bring fresh, healthy vegetables to the table for 200-300 patrons each and every day.
Plus, it’s all driven by the power of volunteers, who take away highly useful skills and the well-developed sense of altruism that only comes with genuine community involvement. And with Rimol there to back them up, New Horizons can look forward to passing on the knowledge to younger generations well into the future, and beyond.
“[The volunteers] are very savvy… but they still call [Rimol] their ‘garden angel,’” said Marett. “They make it happen, but they know we will still step in to help when needed. [We’re] watching over them from above!”
For now, we’re so excited to see these youngsters getting their hands dirty and picking up invaluable experiences giving back to those who need it most. Rimol and New Horizons will continue to push boundaries and find new solutions under the protection of a sturdy greenhouse - and we’ll be watching those zucchini all the way until they hit the plate.