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Garden's Bounty Goes to Norwalk's Homeless

Jane Rivas looks around Fodor Farm and sees her neighbors reflected back at her. "You look at the plots, and you see people's personalities," she said, pointing to the plot with a Little Buddha for decoration. One plot boasts a contemplative frog and assorted tomato cages; one uses stainless steel pipes; and another has a criss-cross lattice of thin pieces of wood.

The two plots that Rivas tends to are nondescript, their uniqueness invisible: everything she grows goes to the Open Door shelter.

The widow donates most of the bounty from her large garden at home to the shelter, too. "The shelter is dependent upon the public's donations," she said, emphatically, by way of explanation.

Rivas has been gardening since she was a child in Indianapolis. She and her husband moved to Norwalk 28 years ago and stayed, except for three years in Japan. He died nine years ago, after a long career with IBM.

Rivas has been a volunteer at the shelter for a long time and a Fodor Farm gardener since it opened as a community garden in 2008. "I was volunteering there and then they opened the community garden," she said. "I thought, 'That sounds cool, I'll see if I can get a couple of plots to grow things for the shelter.'"

The shelter paid for the plots, and in return, she delivered a lot of spinach. It's hard to grow enough for 200 people, though, and she learned from her mistakes. "I'm busy trying to grow things that they have to purchase, like onions," she said. "I can grow onions quickly. I grew a lot of red onions last year, had very good success."

One plot is devoted to herbs, which Haitian cook Ferrer Alexis appreciates. "It's great," he said, adding that he loves the basil, parsley and fresh garlic. Rivas' lemon balm is handy to use in salad dressing.

At home, Rivas grows tomatoes, artichokes and potatoes. She has another herb plot, and last year she grew zucchini and edamane. Once in a while she gives produce to her sister in West Haven, she said, but most goes to feed the homeless and poor people.

She loves Fodor Farm. "The people you meet here," she said. "We all have to same basic interests, same love of dirt under our nails. ... It's a nice place. It's the best place to come after a very hard day, the easiest way I know to unwind."

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