A garden grows at the Helen Keller National Center

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A garden grows at the Helen Keller National Center
Dina Perulli spreads out fertilizer at a new vegetable garden at the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point. (Photo by Luke Torrance)

On a hot Monday afternoon, volunteers and students from the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point gathered to put down soil, plant seeds and spread fertilizer. A new garden on the center’s grounds will produce cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, string beans, eggplant and parsley.

The project is a collaboration among the Helen Keller National Center, Plant a Row for the Hungry’s Port Washington chapter, the Sands Point Garden Club and Paul D. Schreiber High School freshman Dina Perulli.

The vegetable garden is Perulli’s project for the Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can receive.

“I’ve always loved gardening,” said Perulli, who has a garden in her backyard. “I wanted to do something with gardening for my project … and I came across the Helen Keller Center.”

At first she wanted to do a sensory garden, but the center already had one.

“They had a sensory garden, but they didn’t have a vegetable garden,” she said.

The center did once have a vegetable garden that was started by a former student who now works for the Helen Keller National Center. But the former student eventually had less and less time to spend on the garden, and it fell by the wayside.

Since then, local gardening organizations discussed re-establishing a vegetable garden on the grounds of the Helen Keller Center.

“We got together years ago, talking about the potential of a garden here,” said Marvin Makofsky, the chief vegetable garden executive for Plant a Row. “We were asked by the center to put in the vegetable garden and really tell the community about what we were doing.”

Perulli’s project provided the perfect opportunity. She and Plant a Row will continue to be involved with the garden and hope to expand it. Students at the Helen Keller Center will be involved with harvesting, planting and weeding.

“Her goal was to start this and get the students involved,” said Mary Finch Kay of the Sands Point Garden Club. “The students are going to help take care of the garden, which is a good thing.”

A couple of students took part in the planting on Monday, and two pots on display were also painted by students at the center.

Much of the produce grown will go to Plant a Row, which donates the food to needy families. But vegetables will also go to the center’s students and residents, who will use them in their own cooking.

“Folks who come here for training, they learn to cook safely and tactically … they can use some of the produce to create some great meals,” said Sue Ruzenski, the executive director of the Helen Keller National Center. “It’s really a nice thing.”

The demand for freshly grown vegetables came after students sampled some locally grown produce.

“We just had a tasting of the herbs grown by the Sands Point Garden Club, and the students wanted the cafeteria food to taste so good,” said Finch Kay.

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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