Sometimes all the pieces fall in place when you try to do something that will help people.
Roadrunner Food Bank had considered putting together a small, community garden pilot project for a few years. We thought the best approach was to find a food pantry with the ability to plant a garden. Produce grown on site could be given out to clients attending the regular food pantry distribution. As great as this sounded, we knew that this would simply supplement the regular food boxes. The clients would get some wonderful locally grown vegetables, but not much else.
That’s when we learned about container gardening. A seed was planted, and a plan began to grow.
What if, in addition to the fresh produce from the food pantry garden, we sent clients home with a small seedling that could be easily grown on small window sills and front stoops?
Again, this would only be a nutritious supplement to the food clients received from the food pantry. But, perhaps it would inspire people to grow a few things of their own. Children might learn a little about gardening. If you’re on the SNAP program, you can actually buy seeds that produce food. Perhaps this could start a small ‘window sill’ gardening movement similar to the Victory Gardens in World War II.
Ann Sharpe runs the Christ United Methodist Mobile Food Pantry in Albuquerque’s International District. Once a month, they provide food to 50-100 households. Ann is a passionate gardener and was very enthusiastic about the concept. Christ United Methodist already had some existing beds that would be suitable for the community garden phase of the project.
(The community garden at Christ United Methodist Mobile Food Pantry.)
But, how could we get the Container Garden phase going?
Out of the blue, Susan and Mike Reed from La Orilla Farm contacted Roadrunner. They had lots of seeds and wanted to use their skills to help hungry people. We met with The Reeds and told them what we wanted to do. They were already two or three steps ahead of us.
They seeded six-packs of basil, parsley, chives, and bush tomatoes. All of these seeds were chosen because they could be easily grown in small containers. They even managed to get a discounted rate on potting soil from Soilutions. And, once they got word out among their friends and colleagues, other people starting donating seeds.
Everything was moving along. Now, all we needed was at least 220 plastic containers to put the seeds and soil in.
As fate would have it, a company called New Mexico Recycle Process donated 200 plastic containers. A school group volunteering at Roadrunner cut them to size and punched holes in the bottom for irrigation.
Seedlings from La Orilla Farm were planted in the raised garden beds at Christ United Methodist by Ann and her crew as the Reeds readied the container gardens.
Now, all we needed to do was to wait for Mother Nature to do her thing.
By the June 3, some of the container gardens were ready to give out. They went fast. The rest were ready by the following food pantry distribution in July. The clients loved them. Each plant came with instructional brochures in English and Spanish on how to care for the seedlings.
(Container gardens ready to be distributed to clients.)
Soon, the community garden should be ready to harvest, and clients will be treated to chile, tomatoes, squash, quelites, arugula, and squash.
At some point, Ann Sharp measured the garden beds and realized they came in at .0033 of an acre. This was fitting.
(The .0033 of an acre providing food for the local community in Albuquerque’s International District.)
The area around her church could be considered a food desert. Save for one high-end specialty market, there are no grocery stores. For families living nearby, it means bus fare or a long, long walk in the summer sun to get food. Many people rely on the Christ United Methodist Mobile Food Pantry each month when their SNAP benefits run out. Fruits and vegetables are often the first item crossed off a grocery list when money gets tight. It can be a lot cheaper to buy starchy staples. Without produce, the lack of the vitamins and nutrients can lead to poor nutrition and other health problems.
One food pantry alone cannot help everyone in need. One community garden cannot either. But, like those seeds, little things can grow and take on a life of their own. With the help and generosity of a few people, many households will enjoy some fresh chile and spinach next month. Some folks will be able to pick tomatoes from a milk-jug garden on their kitchen window sill.
This year, it’s just .0033rd of an acre. Next year, we hope to grow.
Jason Riggs is the SNAP Outreach Coordinator for Roadrunner Food Bank. If you are interested in participating in a Community Garden, please send us your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in volunteering for SNAP Outreach, please call Jason at 505-349-8833.