Oct. 16, 2019 (Middletown, Conn.) — Middlesex Community College (MxCC) officially dedicated a former playground as the Veterans Memorial Natural Garden on October 15, 2019. MxCC Chief Executive Officer Steve Minkler presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which began with greetings from Connecticut State University System President Mark Ojakian.
While the 7,000-square-foot garden honors the college’s veterans, much of the harvest supplies the campus food pantry known as the Magic Food Bus.
According to Coordinator of Institutional Advancement Trenton Wright, who oversees the food pantry, the garden features peach trees, blueberries, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, peppers, tomatoes, basil, strawberries, and cucumbers. The project was funded with grants and donations from the Rockfall Foundation, the Middletown Community Development Block Grant, Newman’s Own Foundation, and the MxCC Foundation. The Connecticut River Coastal District assisted in implementing organic gardening best practices.
The college also conducted a fundraising campaign by selling commemorative signs for the garden’s fence and donated half of the proceeds to the MxCC Veterans OASIS Center. Peter Galgano, the college’s veterans outreach coordinator, said the center is a place where former and current military personnel can network, support each other, learn about VA Benefits, study, and socialize. About 200 military students are currently enrolled at the college, which was named a Gold Star Military-Friendly School this year.
During the ceremony, Middletown Common Council member Phil Pessina, a former Middletown deputy police chief, sprinkled sand he collected from the beaches at Normandy in the garden.
“The garden will always memorialize and respect the veterans we have here today,” said Pessina.
Volunteers including veterans and several student workers accomplished much of the garden work. MxCC student Samantha Mims interned for the project since it began last spring.
“I helped construct the raised beds and fill them with soil and compost. I also planted and helped take care of the garden throughout the summer. I did things such as weeding, watering and mulching as well as making sure the plants were not getting eaten by pests,” said Mims. “This internship was a worthwhile experience, and it has taught me a lot about taking care of a garden and all the hard work that goes into it.”
Established in 2016, the Magic Food Bus pantry, a converted school bus, serves students to offset food insecurity issues that many of them face. The USDA defines food insecurity as the lack of nutritional food. According to a recent study at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the ability buy food is a problem for 52 percent of students at community colleges.
Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy visited the pantry to support his report on college housing and food insecurity last August.
Since 1966, Middlesex Community College has provided high-quality, affordable, and accessible education to a diverse population, enhancing the strengths of individuals through degree, certificate, and lifelong learning programs that lead to university transfer, employment, and an enriched awareness of our shared responsibilities as global citizens. A part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, MxCC offers more than 70 degree or certificate programs at the 35-acre campus in Middletown, MxCC@Platt in Meriden, and online.