The first Jessie’s Community Garden was installed in the spring of 2011 on the grounds of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, close to the kosher food pantry of the Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford (JFS) – a pantry that is open to anyone in need and serves 16 towns in the greater Hartford area. The second garden was installed soon thereafter on the grounds of Beth El Temple, followed by a third on the grounds of Hebrew Health Care, both in West Hartford. And so on…in communities all across the Hartford area. Now, this past spring, the ninth edible Jessie’s Community garden was installed on the grounds of B’nai Tikvoh Shalom in Bloomfield.
Established in 2010 by MIchelle and Dane Kostin of West Hartford in memory of their daughter Jessica Kostin, with the support of the Jewish Federation, the gardens’ fresh fruits and vegetables supply the JFS Kosher Food pantry as well as other food pantries throughout the greater Hartford area. Garden architect Judy Brenner estimates that last season 200 volunteers supplied families in need with an estimated 700 pounds of lettuce alone. At Beth El Temple, religious school students grated and jarred potent Passover horseradish from Jessie’s Community Gardens in order to raise funds to buy seeds for next season’s planting of vegetables that are donated to a food bank.
The gardens bring awareness of sustainable farming, offer hands-on learning and have become therapeutic outlets for Hartford residents. The Kostins, who are active members of Beth El Temple, plan to create a total of 15 Jessie’s Community Gardens.
“What began as a step toward a tangible way to fight poverty in our own backyard”, said Laura Zimmerman, associate vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, “is now, thanks to the Kostins’ inspiration, a huge asset to our community.” Nearly 70 percent of the clients of the JFS Kosher Food Pantry, where much of the produce is delivered, live below the poverty line.