Lilley: Community garden grew 300-400 pounds of produce for N.S. food pantry last year

Gardener Ann Lilley speaks before the Town Council.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The town’s community garden is providing hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to residents in need at a minimal cost to the town, say organizers, who updated the Town Council this week on the progress that’s been made with the project over the past several years.

Gardener Ann Lilley said that in 2023, volunteers grew and delivered somewhere between 300 and 400 pounds of fresh produce to the North Smithfield Food Pantry.

“I think that’s enormously successful,” Lilley said this week.

Started in 2020 at the former Halliwell Elementary School property, the garden was funded with less than $1,000 through Parks & Recreation Department’s budget that year to purchase items such as fences and hoses – and hasn’t cost the town a penny since. The garden was initially built by the former school gymnasium and has since been relocated to a space by the playground to avoid potential troubles from the demolition of the school buildings.

“We don’t expect to expand it any more than it is,” said Lilley. “We continue to work on improving it.”

Garden plants are started as seedlings by the volunteers, with any extras sold to the public to create a small fund to support the project. Wright’s Dairy Farm has donated a truckload of manure to the garden each year to help out.

“That is our secret sauce, which is why we get so many vegetables,” Lilley said. “It works out really well.”

Lilley and her group of roughly a dozen volunteer gardeners take home the harvest from the first two weeks of each month, with the second two weeks devoted to the pantry. She estimated that last year, the gardeners picked some 816 pounds of tomatoes, squash, peppers and more, despite the fact that all of their green beans were eaten by pests.

“Anyone who is a gardener knows not everything works out the way you plan it,” Lilley said. “That probably would have added another two to three hundred pounds, if our beans had survived.”

In the future, Lilley said the gardeners hope to offer cooking classes and workshops on how to freeze and preserve food. They also hope to work more closely with the food pantry to make sure produce recipients know what to do with the less common vegetables such as chard.

The group plans to add perimeter fencing, as well as crops such as rhubarb that critters won’t eat, as well as improve their record keeping.

“We probably have underreported,” she said of her estimates.

Lilley noted that often, even after both the volunteers and pantry goers have had their share, the garden produces a surplus. For that, she noted, the group hopes to coordinate more regularly with the town’s senior housing complexes for occasional drop offs.

“Those doors are locked,” she said. “You can’t just sail in there with a bucket of tomatoes. I would like to see that when we have an excess it can go to people who need it.”

Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski said he would reach out to management at the complexes to help coordinate the effort.

“We”ll load them up and drop them off,” Zwolenski said of the excess produce.

“This is great Ann, with how much produce you have gotten every year,” said Council President Kimberly Alves, asking if there might be enough excess to start a farmer’s market.

“We’re pretty much as big as I think we can go,” Lilley replied.

Councilors noted that they’re hopeful a school or scout group will step forward to build a shed for the garden. Lilley said there are also grants available to turn the garden into a, “community center,” which basically consists of adding benches.

And at less than $2,000 in costs, she noted that town has gotten it’s money’s worth from the initial investment.

“We’ve been able to leverage that into a lot of food for people,” she said.

Lilley noted that the garden is always looking for more volunteers, especially those with, “strong backs,” who can help with tasks such as shoveling manure. Those interested are asked to contact her at

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