Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments, Inc. (VINES), an organization committed to developing a sustainable and just community food system, has launched a campaign to construct its new headquarters in Downtown Binghamton.

VINES works to improve the lives of local community members through the use of urban gardening techniques and connecting urban consumers to rural farmers. By utilizing garden-based education and providing access to local food sources, VINES aims to empower individuals of all ages and abilities to create community gardens, cultivate urban agriculture and contribute to community green spaces to beautify the community.

The organization began as a volunteer-led project of building community gardens in the Binghamton area in 2007. With the growing demand for their services, the organization quickly expanded, and in 2010, the organization became an independent nonprofit.

VINES’s involvement in the local community consists of operating 19 community gardens, a 2.25-acre urban farm, year-round youth development and employment programs, an over 200-member farm share program that delivers to 11 neighborhoods around Broome County, free “Green Thumb” educational workshops and more.

Amelia LoDolce, VINES executive director, explained how COVID-19 and growing community awareness of their services allowed the organization to expand its services.

“Because of [COVID-19] though, there are more people than ever looking to grow their own food,” LoDolce wrote in an email. “Demand for our services keeps growing, and we’ve been adding staff so we can serve more people. Because of this, we have outgrown our existing office, and we need a new home within walking distance of our Urban Farm so that our youth can easily come to the office during bad weather or for certain training.”

Currently, VINES is looking to expand its services and impact in the community. To ensure a smooth transition, the organization is looking to purchase a 4,000-square-foot office building in Downtown Binghamton. VINES recently acquired two vacant lots at 157 Susquehanna St. and 1 Fayette St., which are out of the floodplain and two blocks from the Urban Farm at 16 Tudor St.

The building will have a large open community space, kitchens and dry and cold storage for food. The location will also be used to hold workshops in urban agriculture and offer natural building tours to draw people from the region.

The VINES office will be the first-ever net-zero energy building in the Binghamton area and the first commercial building in the Northeast using straw-bale construction.

Net-zero energy utilizes energy efficiency and renewable energy generation to produce as much energy as it consumes. The building will be constructed with solar panels and a geothermal heating system to achieve this goal. Straw-bale construction is a green construction technique that utilizes natural, locally grown materials such as straw bales as insulation.

According to the VINES website, the energy savings over the life of the building will make up for and exceed the cost of achieving net-zero energy with an estimated savings amount of at least $8,000 per year.

LoDolce noted that the cost of the project is currently being covered with individual gifts, foundation grants, business sponsorships and donated labor and materials.

“We’re looking to raise $150,000 to help cover the costs of building a new office for VINES that will also have community space for neighbors and other nonprofits to use,” LoDolce wrote.

Looking forward, VINES is also aiming to expand the Grow Binghamton Youth Program to become a year-round program to serve more youth. In addition, the organization anticipates the doubling of urban farm sales by 2023 and expanding the community gardens.

“We’re continuing to expand our programs every year and will be building some new community gardens this year, testing out a community composting operation and more,” LoDolce wrote.

Chris Wen, a first-year graduate student in the dual-degree sustainable communities and public administration program, learned about VINES through his studies at Binghamton University.

“VINES has done an incredible job promoting food security in a sustainable way for the local community,” Wen said. “I love that they’re expanding their mission. It’s such a great way to give back and also connect with your neighbors and the natural world.”

VINES always has volunteer opportunities available for individuals and groups. For more information, email VINES at volunteer@vinesgardens.org or visit https://vinesgardens.org/.