Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Community Gardeners Share Bounty

Gardeners share bounty
Saturday, August 30, 2008 3:21 AM By Rita Price THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Linda Casto works in the garden at Glenwood United Methodist Church on the West Side. Although their garden is flood-prone, she and Dominic Verrilli have grown and donated hundreds of pounds of produce to neighborhood food pantries.

It hardly seems possible to improve upon a ripe, sun-warmed tomato straight from the garden. But Linda Casto and Dominic Verrilli know how to make the fruit even sweeter: Give it away.
The two tend a sprawling garden on a flood-prone patch of ground at Glenwood United Methodist Church on the city's West Side. They grow food to feed the hungry, sending hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to neighborhood food pantries.

"It feels good," Casto said.

Home gardeners with excess harvest can help, too. Instead of tossing -- or cursing -- surplus zucchini and cherry tomatoes, community-gardening advocates suggest donating. Area food pantries continue to face record demand, and fresh produce is always needed.

The Mid-Ohio FoodBank can link local growers and donors with a pantry near them, said Evelyn Behm, senior vice president of food and strategic initiatives.

"We'll make matches," she said yesterday. "We're trying to enhance the quality of food at pantries. Fresh fruits and vegetables are something that many families don't have access to."
Behm said the produce supply at Mid-Ohio, which provides food to hundreds of central Ohio pantries, has been good this summer. But the number of families who need food shows no sign of easing.

During the first six months of this year, demand jumped 14 percent over the same period last year, Behm said.

Gardening for the needy is a welcome next step in the community-gardening movement, said Bill Dawson, coordinator of the Franklin Park Conservatory's Growing to Green program.
"In the last couple years, church gardens have really taken off," he said.

Plant a Row for the Hungry, a national campaign by the Garden Writers Association, also encourages growers to plant extra for giving.

And homeowners shouldn't forget their fruit trees. "Don't let it fall in the yard and rot," Dawson said. "Collect it and take it to the pantry."

Casto said she and other church members started the garden after a former pastor challenged them to find new ways to reach out to their community, which includes many low-income, immigrant and refugee families.

"People were very enthusiastic," Verrilli said.

Organizers secured grants and plant donations; church members also were offered separate plots in exchange for a promise to donate at least 10 percent of their harvest.

"It's good fellowship," Casto said. "We can laugh together. Sometimes we cry together."

One dark day in early June, Verrilli climbed atop the water tank and took out his cell phone to call Casto. The garden, shed and greenhouse were 6 feet under water. "It's gone," he said.
That likely won't be the last time they face temporary ruin, Casto figures. But hope, and sometimes tomatoes, spring eternal.

Help the hungry: To make a donation or find an area pantry in need of fresh produce, call the Mid-Ohio FoodBank at 614-274-7770.

No comments: