The Scranton Greenhouse Project: A True Beacon of Health and Community

Photographs by Ingrid Martinique

It’s easy for those of us who don’t spend time in greenhouses regularly to forget how warm they can become. However, even as the sweat beaded across my brow, I would have to insist that the warmest thing about my visit to the newly renovated Nay Aug Park greenhouse was the humble smile of the gracious Jane Risse, Executive Director and Community Garden Manager of The Greenhouse Project.

The Greenhouse Project—Theresa Demopulos, volunteer.  Photo by Ingrid Martinique.

The Greenhouse Project—Theresa Demopulos, volunteer. Photo by Ingrid Martinique.

It was nostalgic to be back in the Nay Aug Park greenhouse, even if it no longer looked exactly like I remembered it. As a child I lived just across the street and was fascinated by the vacant structure. I eventually found a way inside and engaged in what I like to call “guerrilla gardening,” a term Risse and I enjoyed a laugh over, wherein I would transplant wildflowers or try to grow seedlings. Time passed, the old greenhouse was eventually torn down and a new one erected in its place. Risse and her group moved into the space on this past April 4th, and have been busy ever since transforming it into a thriving center of healthful, natural produce, consumer education, and fun, innovative events for people of all ages.

The belief that Jane Risse adheres to is a relatively simple one: eat healthy to live healthy. Rather than badger the public with complicated rhetoric about the source of their food (though, if asked, Risse could easily sit for hours and explain the process interestingly and in full detail), she is able to demonstrate the facts simply through passion and action.

The Greenhouse Project—Mo Watson, volunteer.  Photo by Ingrid Martinique.

The Greenhouse Project—Mo Watson, volunteer. Photo by Ingrid Martinique.

In the near future the Project is hoping to have a projector screen donated to the greenhouse in order to host movie nights highlighting food and educational films for the public. The Project is also soliciting the donation of raised planting beds so that the sprouts now being housed indoors for sale can be transplanted into larger plots, allowing them to mature fully. This transplanting would also permit visitors to learn about and witness firsthand the changes in a plant’s life cycle.

Risse intends for both the greenhouse itself and The Greenhouse Project to become tools for educating the community at large, but more specifically, the children in the community, in whom the educational efforts will likely produce the greatest harvest, now and for years to come. This past year Risse organized and ran a pilot class for youngsters to learn healthy cooking practices called The Young Chefs Academy in the kitchen of the Myrtle Street United Methodist Church, with the help of Chef Kim Minora of Indigo Spoon Catering in Scranton.

Risse is concerned by the growing disconnect between us and our food, and it’s hard to dispute such a disconnect. However, it becomes very easy to recognize and maintain that connection by simply experiencing the satisfaction of enjoying a meal plucked from our very own garden at a young age. Gardening and growing produce are activities that can instill rewarding traits in our children, such as gentleness, patience, and trustworthiness. Gentleness and then patience as they first plant seedlings and then wait for a crop to grow and for fruit to ripen. Trustworthiness as they assume responsibility for the upkeep of the living things under their care and, later, the work of harvesting. And let’s not forget about the self-satisfaction they surely feel the first time they see a plump, bright-red tomato or a rotund prospective jack-o’-lantern. Furthermore, having healthy food choices readily available while growing up will only encourage healthy eating habits in the long run, right?

I also asked Risse about the logistics of running an operation on this scale, especially one kept in motion almost entirely by volunteers. “The problem isn’t always finding volunteers,” she told me (although she can always use more), “it’s finding the task they are suited for. When people give up their time to help, it can be frustrating for them if they feel they haven’t accomplished anything, if they haven’t been able to give everything they could have.” Then Risse said something I found moving, “I always try to focus on the positives, never the negatives. It’s so easy to get cynical and dwell on the negatives of ‘Why did this person not show up? Why didn’t she do more? Why didn’t he finish his project?’ and I try to forget that and just remember the people who do show up and do put in their time and knowledge. I always try to be thankful that these individuals at least made the effort. I like to think that if I keep the faith, if I stay committed and I put in 150% of myself, then people will see that and they’ll follow. Everything will fall into place.”

Perhaps after reading this far your interest as a reader and Scranton-area resident has been piqued, and you’ll decide to stop by this amazing greenhouse that sells ready-to-plant herbs, various produce, and annual and perennial flowers at prices lower than those at the large chain stores—with the added bonus of giving back much to the community and helping to sustain small business. Or maybe you’ve been putting off starting a small garden of your own and will find that the greenhouse volunteers can make it much easier than you ever imagined by helping you make educated choices and offering in-depth answers to any questions you may have.

What should you do if you want to help in some way or volunteer? Any donations, whether of supplies or time, however small, are very welcome, will be appreciated immensely, and will go a long way towards benefiting your community. The first thing you should do is to reach out to Jane Risse and ask her what you can do to help. She may be reached either through stopping by the Nay Aug Park greenhouse (on the corner of Nay Aug Road and Arthur Avenue—see map below), by phone at 570.344.9186, through The Greenhouse Project Facebook page, or via the Shalom Scranton website at  Tell her what you know about gardening, what you’re willing to do, and what you can do well. It will help you and The Greenhouse Project get the most out of your time, whether you can spare a weekend or two a month, or simply an hour on a random Wednesday.

Also, the Scranton Farmers Market and other farmers markets in the area will be opening soon, and The Greenhouse Project could use help getting the word out that it exists (remember, it only just started on April 4th!), selling produce, and providing some basic information on food education and some of the current and upcoming community development projects. The Project would love to gain exposure at the markets, so if you are willing to help out, even for a single day, please get in touch!

Perhaps you lean more toward the creative and would rather contribute ideas for new initiatives The Greenhouse Project could facilitate for the public such as a game night, your own movie night, a fresh vegetable make-your-own-sandwich luncheon, or a school trip, for example. Although Risse and her team have their own ideas for programs and activities, they will also gladly consider any other event as long as they feel it could benefit the community in some way. They are encouraging members of the public to come forward with their ideas so that they might act as a springboard to spark creativity and lead The Greenhouse Project even further.

The Greenhouse Project - Shalom Scranton


Thursday 4 pm–8 pm

Friday / Saturday / Sunday 11 am–3 pm

Hours will change seasonally.

The Greenhouse Project Map Location
(click on map to be directed to Google Maps)
  • Blake Belleman
  • I'm Blake Belleman, a young cook trying to make the best of a beautiful, yet sometimes harsh world. When I'm not trying to learn something new such as knitting, screen printing, or how to prepare a different cuisine, I like to spend my time hearing people's stories and relaxing with good company.

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