Ann LaCroix was at the Epsom Food Pantry donating canned goods in 2020. Curious about the type of fresh produce they were given, she asked if the pantry received free vegetables from volunteers or farms. “Their answer of ‘no’ startled me,” she says, and with greater thought, she realized she could grow and supply organic produce for weekly delivery from her garden. “An idea was born,” she says, and now she not only grows vegetables for Epsom Food Pantry, but also the Loudon pantry, which serves Canterbury, Belmont and Chichester.
During the first nine years after becoming a Master Gardener in 2010, Ann traveled Merrimack County giving a variety of educational garden talks covering everything from building soils to composting to organic gardening. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, speaking engagements were put on hold.
Ann moved from Concord to Chichester in 2015 and finally had her own land to garden, no longer needing to rent garden space. Her first project was building six raised beds. In 2020 and 2021, she built eight more raised beds expanding the garden capacity 820 square feet. In October 2021, she delivered nine types of vegetables to the food pantries. Her meticulous records show the donations included 136 scallions, 40 lbs. Swiss chard, 89 lbs. green beans, 608 slicer tomatoes, 167 pints of cherry tomatoes, 159 yellow squash, 92 zucchini, 119 eggplant, and 162 green peppers. Proudly she says, “My produce is organically grown and excellent quality. There is never any left over.” She says of her vegetables, pantry patrons won’t “find gigantic cukes, football-size zucchini or overripe tomatoes getting passed to the pantry as a so-called donation.” She remembers that was some of the donated vegetables she saw left at the pantry door.
The cost of the garden was Ann’s “sole responsibility,” she says, adding in 2020, she paid for “seeds, fertilizer, manure, mulch, and garden supplies out of my pocket.” Another cost hurdle she had to consider was “wildlife dining.” She invested money and time, and with help, constructed a six-foot, heavy-duty fence to keep animals away.
In 2021, she applied for and received a garden grant from New Hampshire Master Gardener Alumni Association. She re-applied in 2022 and was again awarded a grant, but with a larger budget. Most of her seeds this season were donated by UNH Extension Master Gardener Free Seed Program.
“We need more people to donate from their gardens,” Ann says, of gardeners around the state. She wants her story told to encourage those with surplus produce to designate garden excess to area food pantries. “It just takes a phone call,” she says.
For 35 years, Ann was a science educator in the fields of biology and environmental science for public schools, with one year teaching college. She also worked part-time as a plant specialist at Blue Seal Feeds in Bow for 36 years.
Recently, she gained a part-time volunteer. Epsom resident and 2021 Master Gardener, Robyn Sweeney-Blaise is “excited to work” with Ann. “It is such a worthy cause,” Robyn says. “Ann is truly an angel donating her time and efforts to feed people.” Ann says, “What keeps me going are the stories of people who are homeless… the so-called invisible homeless you don’t see.” With escalating prices of gas, rent, food and high inflation, the lines are longer at food pantries, “and without a doubt, there is need.”
Ann is a prime example of how Master Gardeners help to fulfill community needs.