A gift that keeps on giving

A movable Rimol greenhouse system at the University of New Hampshire.
Photo courtesy of Rimol Greenhouse Systems.

The business of growing food and providing sustenance for the community is, by its very nature, a nurturing one. Coaxing seeds to grow into nutritious food for local neighbors, however you define them, is second nature for farmers. It’s just what they do. Excess produce is often donated to local food banks, or charitable organizations are welcomed to glean the fields after harvest. Organizations such as America’s Grow-a-Row in New Jersey, Village Harvest in California, and many more from coast to coast, focus on feeding the hungry by working with local growers to collect surplus produce, establishing community gardens where volunteers grow food for charity, and teaching people the skills needed to grow their own food.

While farmers can be generous, service-related agricultural companies have also stepped in to provide communities with the equipment needed to produce food. One company that sees the importance of providing a helping hand when it comes to growing food is Rimol Greenhouse Systems (http://www.rimolgreenhouses.com). The company has donated several of its greenhouse systems over the years and has provided discounted pricing to organizations in need.

Owner Bob Rimol founded the company “in order to provide innovative and quality greenhouse technology for local growers,” according to the company website. Based in Hooksett, N.H., Rimol Greenhouse Systems has taken a leadership role in donating greenhouse systems to community outreach and educational organizations. The donations are part of a “pay it forward” system that Rimol and co-owner Mike Marett use to guide their company’s operation.

“We had a lot of rough years and hard times, but now we are doing OK,” Rimol said. “We cannot do it all and cannot make promises to everyone, but we try hard to be as generous as we can.”

Build it

While many companies donate money to charitable causes, or encourage employees to generously donate their time, Rimol Greenhouse Systems decided to do what they do best: provide a means for food production to become an essential ingredient and life skill. The donated greenhouse systems provide ongoing benefits, so the value goes beyond the actual monetary cost of the system.

“We build greenhouses very well, and we always tailor each greenhouse for a learning situation that is productive, to show many people how greenhouses can be constructed with various options,” Rimol said. In this manner, each donated greenhouse meets the specific needs of the recipient and the community being served.

The company’s donations include a movable greenhouse system for the University of New Hampshire, a movable system for the University of Vermont and a high tunnel for West Virginia University Extension.

The high tunnel at New Horizons provides the fresh food needed for the soup kitchen. It also enables the shelter to offer job skills training, provides fresh produce to food pantry clients, and gives shelter program participants the opportunity to raise funds by selling excess produce.
Photo courtesy of New Horizons, Manchester, NH.

Why were they chosen as recipients? “UNH is in our backyard, I am a UVM graduate, [and] WVU is important because West Virginia has given us a lot of business, and I think that their growers are mostly new and need a lot of guidance and teaching,” Rimol explained. “WVU Extension has a regular high tunnel, but they use it at the state fair.”

The most recent high tunnel donation was to New Horizons (http://www.newhorizonsfornh.org), a food pantry, soup kitchen and shelter in Manchester, N.H. The Manchester community pitched in to erect the system and provided the excavation, water and electrical work needed. The community will also help establish the beds and plant, maintain and harvest the produce. The Timberland Co., which is based in New Hampshire, sent over 50 employees to help build planting beds.

“New Horizons was giving back to Manchester,” Rimol said. “Manchester helped us many years ago when we were a small, struggling business.”

New Horizons

Manchester is an urban environment, and the New Horizons soup kitchen feeds between 250 and 300 people each day. Every meal includes a salad and a vegetable. Produce costs alone total over $50,000 per year, according to Charlie Sherman, executive director of New Horizons.

“Mike Marett has been a van driver for New Horizons and is very familiar with our operation,” Sherman noted. “We began discussing the [donated vacant] lot and how I wanted to do something with it that would not only benefit the community, but could also involve clients of New Horizons.”

As a result of that discussion, Rimol and Marett decided to donate a high tunnel system. The high tunnel provides the fresh food needed for the soup kitchen. It also enables the shelter to offer job skills training, provides fresh produce to food pantry clients, and gives shelter program participants the opportunity to raise funds by selling excess produce. The high tunnel’s first crops included spinach, which was served on Thanksgiving Day to over 200 people.

New Horizons put a vacant lot to good use with a donated high tunnel from Rimol Greenhouse Systems.
Photo courtesy of New Horizons, Manchester, N.H.

“Food is vitally important right now and in our future,” Rimol said. “We need to keep pushing this, not only for our survival, but for our health and wellness.”

Future plans

The high tunnel has breathed new life into New Horizons’ charitable work, opening up many new opportunities and encouraging enthusiastic response from volunteers and program participants. Volunteer Master Gardener Emily Sandblade has organized a group of over a dozen volunteers, determined to grow as much healthy produce as possible for the soup kitchen. Snow peas, beans, kale, red onions, spinach and other cold-weather crops are already growing. Herbs are definitely planned, as are small beds that will be located underneath the main growing area for crops that can handle some shade.

Greenhouse beds will be filled to capacity, and no greenhouse space will be wasted. Beds will also be built outside the greenhouse, and a composting program is already in place.

“The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive,” Sherman said. We have taken an empty lot that was not very attractive and erected the only urban greenhouse in a major city in the entire state of New Hampshire.”

Keep giving

Rimol Greenhouse Systems’ gift has drawn the attention of Lorraine Merrill, New Hampshire’s commissioner of agriculture, markets and food. Merrill blogged about the donation and the New Horizons program recently, after making a trip to see the high tunnel in action. While New Horizons is busy planning and growing, Rimol Greenhouse Systems already has another donation in mind. They’re currently working with the New Hampshire Food Bank and hope to finalize plans to donate a greenhouse system later this year.

Volunteers working in the Rimol high tunnel at New Horizons.
Photo courtesy of New Horizons, Manchester, N.H.

Rimol Greenhouse Systems has been generous in sharing its products with the community. Numerous organizations have also worked with the company to purchase greenhouse systems for charitable uses. The Sarah K. de Coizart Article TENTH Perpetual Charitable Trust erected a Rimol greenhouse at Vermont’s Long Trail School in order to provide fresh produce for the cafeteria. The greenhouse also has the potential to be used for fundraising.

The ability to grow food is a gift that keeps on giving.

“There are always people struggling that need a shot in the arm or a little help,” Rimol said. “We want to treat everyone as well as we can, which includes customers, employees, vendors and the community where we live.”

The author is a freelance contributor based in New Jersey. Comment or question? Visit http://www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.