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Hartford Homeless To Tend To Vegetables, Fruits In Pots Around City


July 20, 2012

HARTFORD Brother, can you spare a tomato?

In Hartford, the answer is "yes" as the first flower pots filled with vegetable plants have been placed outside several city churches and other locations.

The pots, to be decoratively painted by local artists, are designed to provide free, healthy food to hungry city residents and also offer opportunities for the homeless to earn some money by taking care of the plants.

The project, which is being overseen by the Charter Oak Cultural Center, came about as the result of an observance last summer by a cultural center intern who was visiting New York City.

During the visit, Ethan Burke, 21, noticed a homeless person on the sidewalk milling around a flower pot.

"I'm not used to seeing that kind of stuff," said Burke, who lives in Winsted. "So I got the idea that they could put vegetables in the pots and help feed them."

Burke brought the idea to Rabbi Donna Berman, the cultural center's executive director, who liked it and began working toward Friday's launch of what she believes is the only program of its kind in the country.

The project is known as BOTS Pots, so-named because it builds on the Charter Oak Cultural Centers Beats Of The Street a city street newspaper founded in 2010 and written by people who are or have experienced homelessness. The program features 14 pots with a variety of organic vegetables, including tomatoes, zucchini, red bell peppers, Japanese cucumbers and yellow squash.

"Getting food is hard for some of our residents and getting healthy food is even harder," Berman said.

The second goal of the project is to provide people who are or have experienced homelessness work skills and a paycheck.

At each site someone will tend the plants through the October growing season, watering, weeding and cleaning out stray rubbish or cigarette butts for a stipend the center will give them through money the center raised for the project and two pots that have been sponsored for $300 each by a Manchester church and a West Hartford man.

The center, which has hired nine people, hopes to be able to increase the worker's stipends through sponsorships of the remaining 12 pots.

"We're doing this on a shoe string and still need some funding to help pay our workers an hourly wage," Berman said Friday.

Center officials are also hopeful that the program will take off and that the city will help them expand it next year. Eventually they would like to see vegetable pots on sidewalks all around Hartford.

"This is symbolic of the fact that Hartford is a loving, caring place," Berman said.

City officials are supportive of the effort but have voiced concerns about liability and public health issues related to quality control.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, who helped plant some tomatoes at the program's kick-off Friday at the First Church of Christ on Gold Street, said the city expects to provide future assistance to the program, including providing materials and locations for planters.

But Segarra added that the public nature of the program in an urban setting "presents its challenges."

"We need to be able to ensure product quality and make sure things aren't tampered with," Segarra said.

Organizers said Friday that they will place signs by the pots telling passersby how long it will be before they can grab a ripe piece of fruit to eat and expect the first crop of tomatoes to be ready within two weeks.

Vegetable pots are also at South Church, 277 Main St., Central Baptist Church, 457 Main St., SS Cyril and Methodius Church, 55 Charter Oak Ave., the Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave. and 330 Main St.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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