Ever wonder how an initiative started from a state organization can have so many positive impacts on a organization and community? Well, that is what the State Master Gardener, “GROW Ohio-Feed the Hungry” initiative did in Hancock County. In early January, Bill Jones, Hancock County Master Gardener coordinator received information about how the Ohio Master Gardener Volunteer groups could participate in raising and gleaning produce to donate to food banks to feed the hungry. The initiative was patterned after the book, Katie’s Cabbage.
Given that the Hancock County Master Gardeners were already participating in the United Way Community Garden program, this seemed like a great fit for 2016. Karl Farwig, Master Gardener Community Garden leader, agreed that the “GROW Ohio” program fit well with the purpose for participating in the Community Garden which is to educate the community on researched horticultural practices and to give back to the community with service and food.
Karl formed a team to plan the 2016 garden and ordered seeds to begin the process. The plan laid out plants for a 50’ by 70’ garden, but as the planting season started, the garden expanded by another 10’ by 20’ so the team worked with approximately 3,700 square foot of garden area. The plan included common plants as well as some plants that some of the gardeners on the team had never raised before. This year’s garden included: herbs, lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes, kale, onions, leeks, beets, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, winter squash, Hubbard squash, zucchini, snap peas, snow peas, pumpkins, runner beans, green beans, sweet corn, broom corn, and a 10’ by 20’ section of a variety of flowers including tobacco.
Master Gardener Volunteers and some of our class of 23 interns also volunteered to manage the garden including planting, weeding, watering, scouting for insect and disease issues, and harvesting. As the volunteers worked in the garden, many of the other community gardeners would ask questions and seek guidance. It was important to us to demonstrate proper practices and to educate others as the season progressed. Some of the education given was how to use newspaper and straw to manage weeds, use of straw to avoid soil splashing on tomatoes, peppers and eggplant to control disease, watering practices, weed identification, and proper use of insecticides and fungicides.
As the produce started to be ready for harvest, we contacted a few food banks in Hancock County including the City Mission, CHOPIN, and Hope House. Each organization agreed to take the produce. The City Mission in Findlay expanded their living quarters this year so they were in more need for food and we were able to help them substantially. The best part of delivering produce to the City Mission was the willingness of their head cook, Amy Brehm, to use it in her daily meal planning. Amy would tell us the residents will be getting kale with some of the other food she prepared for the day and it is nutritious for them and they won’t even know they are eating this great food.
As the season progressed, it seemed like the team became more and more dedicated and interested in the number of pounds that we were producing in the garden. Some of our volunteers also donated their excess produce and fruit. One day Dr. Ed Lentz, Hancock County Extension ANR educator, was out discussing an issue with a farmer and asked if the master gardeners could glean potatoes from his recently harvested field. Karl and Lynn Farwig, Bill Jones, John and Linda Leiendecker, Linda Jones, Jerry Williamson, Ed Lentz, and Judi Clymer were able to glean 1,379 pounds of white potatoes which were also provided to the City Mission.
At the end of the growing season, the Hancock County Master Gardener Volunteers had provided a total of 4,848 pounds of produce to feed the local hungry. This was the most produce donated by any of the county Master Gardener Volunteer groups with memberships in the 26-50 range. As a result of these efforts, the Hancock County Master Gardener Volunteers were recognized with a $500 award by the OSU GROW Ohio initiative.
By Karl Farwig and Bill Jones, OSU Master Gardener Volunteers in Hancock County