Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Community gardens

Perhaps the heart of efforts to feed America's hungry are individuals working in small, local programs designed to help feed people in their own communities.  For example, Portage Chapel Hill United Methodist Church has a community garden on church property.  We interviewed Cara Weiler about how it works.  Here are a few things we learned:
  • The garden had about 25 plots in 2009.  Gardeners pay $25 for a plot about 12' x 20.' Scholarships are available to those who need it. Rototilling, water, and some shared tools are available.
  • All gardening is organic unless severe pest problems occur, in which case master gardeners in the congregation are available to help.
  • At the beginning of the season, there were educational events on things such as composting, as well as an 8-week Sunday school class on food justice and the needs for food assistance in Portage.
  • All gardeners donate a minimum of 30% of the produce they raise to the local  Loaves & Fishes Romence Road Food pantry, which has no other access to fresh produce.  In 2009, about 800 pounds of produce were donated.  Gardeners grew a huge variety of food from traditional cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, and pumpkins to more exotic choices such as African corn, heirloom tomatoes, rainbow chard, and purple potatoes.  
The garden met its goals of community building, introducing people to new types of foods, and contributing appreciated produce to the food pantry.  It has been perhaps less successful at encouraging food pantry clients to try a garden plot of their own.

UPDATE:  We stopped by the garden in late August and saw this exuberant growth of a wide variety of vegetables, from several varieties of tomatoes, beans, and squash, to these enormous sunflowers.  Looks like it has been a successful growing season.

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