Avery garden

Students Need Votes to Help Feed the Hungry with National Geographic


AJ AveryOver the summer, English major Avery Woodbury ’17 of Wilmington, Mass., and sociology and philosophy major AJ Coty ’17 of Adams, Mass., worked on a gardening project and donated the food they grew to those in need. Now, they’re asking for your votes in their quest to secure a $25,000 award from National Geographic (Nat Geo) to expand their idea, “Berkshire Community Garden Network,” and help combat area hunger.

As part of their project, Coty and Woodbury (pictured right) had North Adams residents donate garden space that’s tilled, planted and maintained by volunteers, including other MCLA students. They then take the vegetables they grow – including potatoes, corn, beans, squash, broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes – and distribute them door-to-door, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.

Last year, they grew more than 10,000 pounds of vegetables on donated land through a similar, smaller-scaled project.

If successful in securing the funding, Woodbury and Coty would expand their project to include all of Northern Berkshire County. The money would be used to purchase their own rototiller, as well as other needed gardening supplies. In addition, “The concept is to pay Northern Berkshire County residents – to give them job opportunities to help work on the community gardens,” Woodbury explained.

Votes will be accepted starting on Friday, Sept. 1, with the voting process ending on Friday, Sept. 15. The project is part of the “Feeding 9 Billion” category of the Nat Geo challenge. Woodbury and Coty’s one-minute submission video may be viewed at

“We ask people to watch the video and click the ‘vote’ button for us,” Woodbury said.

Avery harvestCoty, who grew up in North Adams, is an ardent gardener. “He wanted to find a way to feed his neighbors without getting corporations involved, because that tends to slow down processes. We accept no payment, and run purely off of donations,” Woodbury said.

“I am very, very passionate about physical and mental health,” Woodbury said. If people eat foods that are low in nutritional value, “they’re not going to be capable of physical work, and mentally, they’re going to be prone to depression, sadness and anxiety. I’m a huge fan of the preventative health model. If we’re encouraging people to eat healthier foods, like vegetables, and get them involved in the growing process, it completely changes their diet and their outlook on food.”

An alumnus of MCLA’s LEAD Academy summer program as an incoming freshman, Woodbury also had the opportunity to work as a volunteer for numerous local organizations through the College’s Center for Service.

“LEAD Academy was awesome. It gave me the skill sets and tools, and helped me to discover who I am as a leader, and the Center for Service introduced me to community leaders and the arena I was stepping into,” he explained.

Those who offer the use of their land, as well as anyone they come upon, are welcome to share in the food, Woodbury said. “It’s not about labeling people. If somebody wants some food, we make sure that they get some.”