growing for good

Norma Silva exemplifies the phrase, “One person can make a difference.” An active, enthusiastic educator, Norma is also an avid gardener and hands-on volunteer at Sugar Hill Farm in Bedford Hills. As part of Westchester Land Trust (WLT), Sugar Hill Farm grows fresh vegetables for the food pantry at the Community Center of Northern Westchester.

“Food banks typically provide canned and boxed processed foods,” says Norma. “Fresh food is more nutritious.” A variety of vegetables and greens are grown and harvested at Sugar Hill Farm. The fresh produce is then donated to the food pantry on a weekly basis during the growing season. The 2019 season yielded 732 pounds of fresh produce.

Feeding the Community
Volunteer gardeners are involved in planting, weeding, watering and harvesting an abundance of peppers, zucchini, potatoes, butternut squash, radishes, turnips, cucumbers, tomatillos, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, basil and garlic. Several varieties of tomatoes are grown at Sugar Hill Farm including sweet yellow tomatoes. A volunteer gardener for more than five years, Norma is proud that everything grown on the farm is donated to help feed community members in need. “Everything is organic,” adds Norma. “No pesticides are used.”

Norma admits with a laugh that she sometimes talks to the plants as she goes about her work at the half-acre garden at Sugar Hill. “How are you doing today? Do you need some water?” Backyard gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts without prior experience can feel a sense of accomplishment in helping to grow vegetables for a good cause.

Lending a Helping Hand
A passionate conservationist, Norma is on the WLT Board and was recognized with an award honoring Women in Conservation. She is also involved in WLT’s Pollinator Pathways Program, promoting the planting of native plants and elimination of pesticides to protect the bee and butterfly populations.

Norma has spent time planting trees and bushes at various WLT preserves including Otter Creek in Mamaroneck. Since 1988, Westchester Land Trust has preserved over 8,400 acres of open space across the county. Also on the Board of the Yonkers Land Conservancy, Norma makes time to volunteer on their monthly clean up days. Her busy volunteering schedule includes the Nepperhan Community Center and the Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York, as well.

Healthy AND Active
A Yonkers resident, Norma grows basil, parsley, chives, oregano, thyme, lettuce and kale in her raised bed garden as part of leading a healthy vegan lifestyle. An active cyclist and a member of the Yonkers Bike Club, she also volunteers with Bike NY to teach adults how to ride bicycles in Van Cortlandt Park.

A lifelong learner, this retired special education teacher continues to take courses online and classes with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Norma even has an app on her phone to identify invasive and native plants that she sees in her travels.

Norma’s commitment to environmental conservation and serving the community is a wonderful example for her two adult children and eight grandchildren. “There are so many things that you can do instead of staying in the house and watching TV,” says Norma. “It’s amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it.”

Garden Volunteers Welcome
Volunteer days at Sugar Hill Farm are open to the public. “Anyone can volunteer,” says Norma. “Volunteering in the garden at Sugar Hill Farm gets you outdoors, doing something physical and benefitting the community.” Why not plan to get your hands dirty and grow for good this spring? For volunteer gardening dates and upcoming events at Sugar Hill Farm, visit

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