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A pillar of the YMCA of Greater Rochester is healthy living, and it goes beyond staying active and getting fit. Six branches across the association are home to community gardens – Bay View Family YMCACarlson MetroCenter YMCAEastside Family YMCAMaplewood Family YMCANorthwest Family YMCA and Westside Family YMCA.

Each garden has a dedicated group of volunteers made up of staff and members. Every year, each is recognized for what they grow in a friendly competition. But it’s more than just who can grow the most; it’s about making fresh fruits and vegetables accessible for members, and planting seeds of community.


The gardens were created nearly a decade ago, by Strengthening Communities Campaign Chair, and master gardener, Jurij Kushner.

“The whole purpose of this inter-generational activity is to get these seniors that have the know-how together with kids who sometimes don’t even know that a french fry comes from a potato, or how a potato is grown.”

The Carlson MetroCenter and Bay View branches really took that to heart in their gardens.

“Going into our community garden and showing them how a tiny seed can grow into a foot-long zucchini, or 6-foot sunflower, is a great experience,” said Abigail Bradford, the preschool and family director at the Bay View Y.

The preschoolers are in the garden every week, picking flowers they sell to help raise money for their Annual Campaign for Financial Assistance, and fruits and vegetables. They also get a taste of what they are helping grow, using freshly picked crops for baked zucchini, pizzas and more. There was even a special sensory garden to help teach smell, taste and touch.


Bay View isn’t the only branch to use the garden as a teaching tool for the youngest green thumbs.

“This year, all vegetable and fruits were grown by seed in each of the classrooms as a science experiment, and then planted outside,” said Anna Spear, Child Care Center Director at Carlson MetroCenter.

Board members, the children and their families spent a Family Engagement Day transferring the plants from classroom to ground.


Bob Stevenson makes sure that each bed has something different growing in them at the Maplewood Y. He’s out there almost every day with his group of volunteers, like Alice Eddy.

“For many years we’ve worked in it together. You get to work with other people and see the talents they have,” said Eddy.

Both Eddy and Stevenson love seeing it go from seed to table, when what they grow is used for lunches at the Lily Café at their branch.


 Seeds are being planted in more than one way in all of these gardens. Kay’s Garden at the Northwest Family Y has taken home the Kushner Cup five out of the six years, growing plants like loofa and edible flowers, but they’re proudest of the connections they are making – like the one that happened over the summer.


“Nobody knew anybody, we just built a military moment in our garden,” said Pam Clark, Healthy Living Coordinator Northwest Family YMCA.

An intern at the branch was working in the garden and mentioned what would it mean to him to meet a Medal of Honor recipient. Clark set up a surprise meeting for the two.

“It brought another level of that togetherness.”

They use their garden in their LIVESTRONG program, and had more than dozen people working in it over the summer.

“It’s not about us, or any branch; it’s about what we’re doing out in the community.”


The community involvement stretches passed regular volunteers in the garden. Organizations from the community have donated their time to help prep the gardens in the spring, and Boy Scouts have made their Eagle Projects centered around creating irrigation systems and flower beds.

Since the gardens were created, hundreds of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables have been donated to area food cupboards, and even other Y branches without a garden. That’s one reason that Suzy Barsell and her family started volunteering.


“I like giving back to the community,” said Barsell.

She us one of nearly 30 volunteers, and said she never had a green thumb before coming to the garden.

“I’m a vegetarian and being in the garden I’ve gotten to try new vegetables and learn new ways of cooking.”

Over at Eastside, volunteers like Dot Latone are taking the time to teach others the art of gardening.

“The part I like is to teach someone about gardening and teach them about something they’ve never known before. It is well-worth your time,” she said.

Dot admits to still learning new things every day in the garden herself. She hopes to plant the seeds for future gardeners.


All six of our gardens serve the need for intergenerational learning, building relationships and social responsibility. We are proud to work in our gardens to be able to support members of all ages, and beyond our own YMCA Communities. We invite you to grab your gardening gloves and join us! You can get involved by reaching out to the branches mentioned above.