Healthy Food for the Hungry
In the metro area, 1 in 5 families struggle with hunger, leaving access to fresh produce often out of reach. To help change that, United Way joined up with partner agency Loaves and Fishes to launch Farm for All, a unique project aimed at supplying local meal programs with organic produce grown at four community garden and farm sites. Over the course of the summer, through the help of volunteers and in-kind donations, the four sites were transformed from plots of land to flourishing gardens and farm beds that were bursting with fresh produce.
Kimberly Greene-DeLanghe, Loaves and Fishes site coordinator, was instrumental in helping plan, implement and maintain the Farm for All garden sites. Kimberly came to Loaves and Fishes after working on organic farms in Oregon and New York, and she was eager to use her skills to help those in need.
“I grew up getting food from the food shelf sometimes,” Kimberly explained. “When I got into farming I wanted to grow really good food for people who couldn’t access or afford it otherwise.”
In planning for the garden sites, Kimberly and her team considered the produce needs, coordination with local food drops and access to refrigeration.
Kimberly also helps plan the menu at the more than 20 meal sites serviced by the gardens. “For the garden plots, we really wanted to grow things that the sites would often use in their meals, like cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes because they grow in bulk pretty well,” Kimberly said.
The garden sites also included: brussels sprouts, cabbage, winter squash, zucchini, turnips, radishes, kale, basil and other herbs. Flowers were planted to help attract pollinators and provide additional beauty to the landscape.
Volunteering from Seed to Harvest
Volunteers have played an important role in the project’s success, helping with tasks crucial to the health and vitality of the garden sites. Over the course of the season, volunteers helped plant, harvest, weed, water and compost. Volunteers came with a spectrum of garden experience. For some this was their first time in a garden. Other volunteers came with plenty of know-how. Whether expert or novice, all came with a passion to help.
When garden volunteer Rochelle Miller heard about the project she felt compelled to get involved. “It’s important to reach out to others in their time of need. I garden at home and love the farm concept. Supplying people with good, nutritious meals makes me feel good to give,” she said.
Individuals, corporate groups, and families all joined in this fun and meaningful project.
“We came three or four times during the summer,” said Elary Hall, a mother of four who volunteered with her family. “Volunteering is a great way to teach your kids about work and about service. This is a really neat thing because the whole family can volunteer together.”
Farm to Table
Once harvested, the produce from Farm for All made its way to meal sites throughout the metro area to be prepared and served by volunteers to people in need.
Chelsey Shoup is a volunteer at one of the 20 meal sites connected to Loaves and Fishes and the Farm for All project. She coordinates a group of volunteers that serve a meal at a local church once a month. The produce that she’s received from the farm has been a nutritious addition to the meals she and the other volunteers prepare.
“Instead of canned vegetables that may be high in sodium, we know that we can get this really delicious fresh food for our guests,” she said. The warm and wholesome meal provides the guests with an uplifting and positive experience. “They are happy to have a place to come and sit, talk and eat.”
John is a meal guest who found himself in need of help when he became unemployed. The money he saves by visiting the meal program goes to help cover his mortgage so he can keep his housing. He enjoys the prepared meal, and appreciates the inclusion of healthy items. “The salads are always good,” he said. In addition to the meal, John said the staff and volunteers have made the experience a good one. “They are always friendly and welcoming.”
The experience is uplifting for the volunteers as well. Married couple Tony and Pat Bianco volunteer regularly with the meal program. The two find joy in helping others and volunteering as a couple. “We have been married for 46 years. When we volunteer together, it’s even more fun,” they said.
Next year organizers hope to build on the success of the Farm for All project with additional offerings and more farm sites. To learn more about how you can volunteer to help hungry people in our community visit Volunteer United.