Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Community Kitchen Garden Returns for its Second Season

Photo Credit: John Garcia

Listen to the full story here

Tucked away in the corner of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is 1/5 of an acre of land dedicated to growing vegetables — with a goal of producing 10,000 pounds this season. It’s called the Community Kitchen Garden, and all of the produce is harvested by volunteers and donated to the Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals on Wheels Central Virginia.

Jonah Holland, PR and Marketing Coordinator for the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, described the inspiration behind the Community Kitchen Garden.

“For years, the Children’s Garden has participated in Plant a Row for the Hungry, which was inspired by the Garden Writer’s association. Typically we were able to produce about 4-500 pounds of fresh vegetables through that very small program, and when we saw that there was an opportunity to do something bigger, it was the Community Foundation that sort of made this all happen because they were able to provide the funding and we saw that there was a need and the opportunity to work with partner organizations in Richmond," Holland said. "It became very clear that the Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals on Wheels would really benefit from this, so it was really kind of a team effort.”

Fresh produce is costly, but the CKG offers an opportunity for these programs to provide it for those in need.

“The most important thing about the community kitchen garden is getting fresh local vegetables into the hands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have them. So when we’re providing these vegetables to meals on wheels, those are being delivered to people who are homebound," Holland said. "And if we can provide fresh vegetables instead of meals on wheels using prepackaged or canned goods, it’s much better nutritionally for the elder people or the homebound citizens.”

Last year was the Community Kitchen Garden’s first growing season, and it produced 9,166 pounds of vegetables, just shy of the 10,000 pound goal. Tom Brinda, Assistant Director at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, said this year will be different.

“This year we’re going to do our 10,000 pounds, we’re starting earlier. So I know we can hit 10,000 pounds of vegetables,” Brinda said.

Brinda explained that the Central Virginia Food Bank serves between 3 and 4,000 meals each day.

“That helps us to consider which plants produce the most during the growing season: so tomatoes, zucchinis, summer squash and then in the fall we would be growing cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower because those are plants that grow lots, quickly and then that way we can help fulfill the chef’s tasks of what he needs for volume at the Central Virginia Food Bank,” Brinda said.

Each Saturday and Monday from 9 am to noon, volunteers come to the CKG to work in the garden. At the start of the season, this means preparing the soil and planting. And once the plants begin producing, the harvest starts.

“We harvest on Saturday and then again on Monday, and when we do that we’re able to stay ahead of most of the crops," Brinda said. "When the summer squash and zucchini are maturing in midsummer, there’s usually a bigger volume and then we harvest on Wednesday and take it over on Thursday as well.”

Mike Waddell and his son Mike were among the group of volunteers at the garden Saturday. Mr. Waddell said that they started volunteering because his son needed to fulfill community service hours for school, but the CKG was something they could both be involved in.

“I decided it would be a good thing for both of us to do together and it’s something that really, really helps quite a bit,” Mr. Waddell said.

Mr. Waddell also said they planned to volunteer seven Saturdays in a row, but may continue longer.

“This is the fourth one. We’ll be here at least another three — we may go beyond that.”

His son, Mike described how he heard about the garden.

“A few of my classmates had done this the summer beforehand and it’s a great thing, and it really helps the community out. So I thought I would give them a little help with it.”

The Community Kitchen Garden is always in need of volunteers. If you have your own garden, you can donate excess produce to the CKG, and it will be delivered to the food bank along with the garden’s regular harvest.

-Kelsey Radcliffe

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