It’s a blazing hot summer day, but there are six volunteers working in Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s community kitchen garden. They’re helping to harvest chard, squash and cucumbers, among other things.
All of the bounty will go to FeedMore’s Meals on Wheels and Kid’s Café programs, its summer food service program and five adult day care centers.
“We work with FeedMore to make sure that we get a variety of crops they can really use,” says Jonah Holland, Lewis Ginter’s public relations and marketing coordinator. “You learn as you go.”
One year the garden grew heirloom tomatoes — lovely to look at and tasting great — but they didn’t transport well, and FeedMore gently asked if perhaps it could grow something easier to prep, such as cherry tomatoes.
The partnership, which started in 2009, was the inspiration of Lewis Ginter’s former president and executive director, Frank Robinson, and FeedMore’s former president and chief executive, Fay Lohr.
“We prepare a variety of dishes with the vegetables donated by Lewis Ginter,” says Amory James, FeedMore’s food production manager. “Anything from pasta salad to summer casseroles to stews to roasted vegetables. We’re able to incorporate all of the produce into our meals for our clients.”
And it’s a lot of produce. Laura Schumm, the horticulturist for Lewis Ginter’s community kitchen garden, drops off vegetables on a rolling basis as they’re harvested. Now, during the height of the growing season, FeedMore receives around 600 pounds a week.
Volunteers come to the garden for different reasons. Annie Anderson is here with her daughter, Stephanie Ruffin, and grandson, Nick Ruffin. Anderson ran a community garden when she lived in Florida. Now that she’s in Richmond, she says she wanted to keep gardening until she finds property out in the country to buy: “The economy now is going to drive pocket gardens in each community. And that’s my dream.”
Melanie Reardon’s daughter, Julia, is working a few hours for George H. Moody Middle School’s community service requirements. Her mom thought she’d come along to volunteer too. “We’re outdoor people,” Julia says. “We have a home garden and I like [working] with my hands.”
Both the Reardons and Anderson and her family discovered the community garden program through HandsOn Greater Richmond, a website and organization that provides an extensive listing of volunteer opportunities in the area.
Lewis Ginter also has a youth service program that provides even more hands. “Part of the curriculum is devoted to teaching good horticultural practices,” Holland says, “and then the other part of the program is devoted to working in the community garden.”
Along with donations from other area farms, Lewis Ginter’s contributions are a big part of FeedMore’s ability to provide food for those in need. “Our goal in the next five years is to have 40 percent of our total food distribution to be produce,” says Jessica Howe, FeedMore’s public relations director.
Lewis Ginter wants to make that happen. The garden’s plan “is to try to grow 10,000 pounds of fresh local vegetables for FeedMore,” Holland says.
And it doesn’t want to stop as the days get colder. “We’ll see how much we can grow over the winter,” Schumm says. With covered rows, such crops as collards, kale and garlic can make it through even freezing temperatures.
The difference that fresh ingredients make hasn’t gone unnoticed. “A lot of folks can tell the difference,” James says — “that the produce is grown locally and not mass produced or shipped in.”
If you’re interested in helping, you can find details at lewisginter.org or by calling 262-9887.
CORRECTION: Orignally, this article stated that FeedMore receives approximately 1,800 pounds of produce at the height of the season from Lewis Ginter. They actually receive around 600 pounds.