Rows of garden beds on the campus of Hood College may not look like much now, but Connie Ray has big plans for them come spring.

“These gardens that we do, in conjunction with other organizations in the community, are a way for people to be able to learn how to grow their own food, to be able to take home produce, to be able to reduce that strain of choosing between keeping the lights on this month or putting food on the table,” explained program manager for the Frederick Food Security Network, Connie Ray.

Ray and the Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies at Hood, have spearheaded the Frederick Food Security Network in an effort to help feed hungry families in the area.  

“The most recent ALICE report from the United Way of Frederick County shows that 51 percent of residents of Frederick city make less than the calculated survival budget to afford to live here,” Ray said.

On-campus, the Frederick Food Security Network has created self-irrigating garden beds that take runoff from nearby building roofs and filter that water for consumption.

“The idea was to address both storm water runoff, which runs into the Chesapeake Bay and carries pollutants, as well as food insecurity,” Ray said.

The initiative kicked off earlier this year and officials say garden beds have already produced more than 1,500 pounds of produce, reaching about 400 local families.

Officials say grants from organizations like the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, help fund the project.

And the initiative has traveled from campus and onto what was once a vacant plot of land behind The Religious Coalition to serve members of their emergency shelter programs and food banks.

 “A lot of times when we watch [our clients’] eating, they’re eating Kraft mac and cheese, oodles and noodles. They’re going to get what works for them, and what’s cheapest for them, which sometimes is not produce,” explained director of client services at The Religious Coalition, Catherine Dorsey.  

The coalition’s garden beds have been a test pilot for the project and over the summer produced vegetables like radishes, lettuce, and cucumbers.

Testing was conducted to ensure the storm water used to water the produce was safe.

“That testing was completed, we now have full range of the garden. So we’re really excited to see how much more can we really put out now that have full range of the garden,” Dorsey said.

Ray says gardens will spread to other organizations like the Boys and Girls club of Frederick County and the Islamic Society of Frederick.

For more information on the Frederick Food Security Network, click here