The best thing Susan Poirier did upon retiring was to become a Master Gardener in 2002, and “the best aspect” of being an MG was six years later when she began working with Wolfeboro’s Food Pantry Garden. A Wolfeboro man, Dick Shurtleff, learned of unused town land and brought up the idea of growing produce for disadvantaged people in L.I.F.E. Ministries, Inc., an outreach program of Christian churches in Wolfeboro. He asked Susan to help him with the garden.
The first harvest was in 2009, and since 2010 when record keeping began, 8,000 pounds of food has been produced. Susan says citing poundage doesn’t really paint a true picture. “Growing more winter squash gives us more pounds than if we grow lettuce, so pounds doesn’t really show impact.”
Susan also takes part in the Veggie Volunteer Program, organized under Carroll County’s UNH Master Garden program. The veggie volunteers glean farm fields, namely Sherman Farm in Center Conway and Spider Web Gardens in Center Tuftonboro, to pick excess or second-quality vegetables for food banks and senior centers. “The staff has told me that clients used to spurn fresh veggies,” she says, “but now, thanks to the quality of what we bring in, they ask for our produce first and only take canned vegetables when ours are unavailable. I like to think we’ve helped them to eat better and be healthier.”
Susan says they recently had to make changes at the garden due to the pandemic. The food pantry cut back on the number of days they distribute food. The need is greater than ever, she says, but keeping volunteers and food pantry consumers safe has meant limiting hours.
They have had to adjust the type of produce too. “Green beans, one of our best crops, just can’t be kept for two weeks so we decided to grow cabbage instead.” This year volunteers covered the soil with cardboard to keep moisture in and cut down on weeds. “But the slugs still love it, and so do cabbage worms. Every year brings its challenges.”
Agricultural students from the local technical school have helped in the pantry project from the start. “One day, I met a student with his mother,” says Susan. “He wanted her to see the work he’d been doing. This was a proud moment for me as well as her.”
Susan considers herself a “New England girl through and through.” Born in Portsmouth, she grew up in Maine, attended college in Massachusetts, then spent a 25-year teaching job in New York state. She has used her teaching experience to created lesson plans for Wolfeboro’s Wright Museum and Boat Museum.
Susan gardens at home, and has six garden-themed spaces — woodland, shrub, daylilies, cool colors, hot colors and vegetables. Aside from all her garden volunteering, Susan enjoys writing garden and nature articles for local newspapers and Cooperative Extension. Capitalizing again on her teaching career, she gives talks to garden clubs and teaches garden topics in adult education classes. “I try to spread the word on the importance of nature to our well-being and to push people to get out and enjoy it.”
UNH Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers share information about home, yard, and garden topics with the people of New Hampshire. Got questions? Master Gardeners provide practical help finding answers to your questions through the Ask UNH Extension Infoline. Call toll free at 1-877-398-4769, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.