By Amber Krosel
Editor’s note: This guest post has been provided by Dayton personal injury law firm Dyer, Garofalo, Mann, & Schultz, which helps residents in Montgomery County and beyond with legal claims for product liability, nursing home abuse, workers’ compensation, Social Security and disability, and more.
After two years, the community served by The Foodbank in Dayton is really starting to dig into its new urban garden. The 40-bed garden grows fresh fruits and vegetables that are later donated to 23 sites in the tri-county area. Food grown is given to local pantries and shelters at no charge; recipients just have to make at or below 200% of the poverty line to access it.
The garden has come a long way since its small start in milk crates. Now, it’s on a blacktop at The Foodbank property and has its own manager, a master gardener, who helped grow 2,000 pounds of food last year. The most popular offerings have included lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and herbs, but people who benefit from the garden also always love hardy potatoes, while others enjoy more vibrant options, like eggplant and mustard or collard greens.
James Hoffer, Master Gardener, started off as a volunteer 18 months ago at The Foodbank in the original garden and has been working the past six months as the manager in the new space. Gardening was always a passion of his since spending countless hours on his grandparents’ 2-acre plot from the time he was in diapers to growing up learning how to care for the land, animals, and plants that inhabited his World War II veteran grandfather’s garden sanctuary.
Hoffer decided to become a master gardener after inheriting his grandfather’s seed collection when he passed away, some of which had been in the family for over a century.
“I wanted to work in this particular urban garden because of the mission The Foodbank strives toward,” Hoffer said. “The idea of growing food to feed hungry people and sharing the knowledge with others is the most rewarding way I feel I can honor all the lessons I had been taught.”
And Hoffer is spreading that gardening joy through these lessons. A high school group, for instance, is building an aquaponics center for The Foodbank, which helps gets these students out of the classroom and learning more about healthy food and how it helps our residents in need. Other volunteers take part in helping with The Foodbank’s mobile farmers market, which visits places where people with disabilities and seniors live.
Senior hunger is something that is increasing in the area as more baby boomers are retiring, and their retirement funds aren’t able to cover everything. Food stamps, if they receive them at all, don’t cover much of their needs, especially if they have to pay for medicine, housing bills, and anything else that comes along with aging.
And it’s not just seniors that need this help. Nearly 124,000 people in the tri-county area have trouble with hunger, with 36,650 of them being children, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap. Family hunger also isn’t just about children who are going hungry — oftentimes, local programs will help kids, such as a box given to those in kindergarten through third grade to make sure they don’t go hungry over the weekend, but they only have enough food to help the child.
A lot of pantries out there can help the whole family, and all of us are looking for new ways to better serve them. That’s where the urban garden comes in.
The Foodbank is inviting the community to help grow its urban garden, both its actual crops and its size, eventually. While last year The Foodbank saw 2,600 volunteers, many assisting with the mobile farmers market, we could use much more help in the garden. One of the biggest challenges is getting consistent and knowledgeable volunteers who stick around, Hoffer says, as the garden relies heavily on volunteers to grow the produce.
“While most of them are enthusiastic, including the college students, many have little or no experience. I am always happy to share what I know with beginners, but they are typically only here a few times and we start over with more beginners,” Hoffer said. “Having a core group of consistent volunteers for the growing season would definitely ease some of this challenge in growing the maximum amount of produce in our garden space.”
Hoffer said that while the garden can’t grow year-round, they do use some extension methods to get nine or 10 months of good production. That’s plenty of opportunities to help most of the year.
Love the idea of fresh produce and want to try your hand at growing your own? Hoffer offers some tips:
- Join an established urban community garden. You’ll likely find some knowledgeable people who would love to share the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
- If you decide to grow in your own backyard, start small and only with a few crops. That way, you can expand as your base of knowledge does.
- Hot tip: You can grow almost any fruit or vegetable in Ohio except for the tropical varieties. Some of the easiest to start with are tomatoes, beans, carrots, lettuce, and peppers.
Good luck! And if you’d like to volunteer, visit thefoodbankdayton.org/take-action/.