Community Kitchen Garden: A Special Report "The Vegetable Food Chain"
by Janine Butler, Garden Volunteer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
I have been working in the vegetable garden at Lewis Ginter for several months now; planting the vegetables, weeding and mulching, and harvesting along with many other volunteers. So I am pleased to bring you this ‘special report’ and show you more about what happens to the vegetables once they leave the garden. The work at Lewis Ginter is just one small part in this ‘Food Chain’.
As I have mentioned previously, the volunteers at Lewis Ginter have spent many weeks tending the plants, and then harvesting:
When the vegetables are picked we sort them, and get them ready for delivery to FeedMore, the umbrella organization for Central Virginia Foodbank, Community Kitchen, and Meals on Wheels. A member of the Lewis Ginter staff delivers the veggies once or twice a week depending on the amount of the harvest.
Once the veggies get to the foodbank then Rob Hamlin, Executive Chef steps in and manages the production of meals for Meals on Wheels, Kids Café, and other programs. I visited Rob last week at the kitchen, and got to see many more volunteers in action there. Rob has a small paid staff of 8-10 people; volunteers undertake the rest of the work. Everyday, between 10-18 people chop vegetables and cook and then another 10-18 come in and package the food, enough to make up to 4,000 meals EVERY DAY. As many as 400-600 volunteers a month donate their time to make all this food.
All the recipes are made from scratch with no convenience products used. This week Rob has been using donated cucumbers for a salad, and next week ratatouille is on the menu using the eggplant and squash.
The donated vegetables have been a huge help this summer: the Foodbank relies on donations from corporate sponsors and private donors and as with many charities they have struggled with the downturn in the economy and have seen a dip in donations. The vegetables help fill that gap, and Rob has relied heavily on the squash and other veggies that the garden has provided. So far over 3,018 pounds of vegetables have been used, the majority being summer squash and zucchini – if squash is an average price of $1.99 pound at the store, then that would’ve cost over $6,000 so far! Our donations have saved the Foodbank at least $6,000. I think that’s amazing!
All this work takes a huge amount of coordination and planning, but what surprised me even more was that Rob and his team makes special meals to order. Most of the recipients of the Meals on Wheels program are elderly and many have certain dietary restrictions, so different versions of the menu are made – some bland, some suitable for diabetics, etc. These meals are all packaged, and then labeled with the recipient’s name and dietary needs.
On Tuesday I went out with my niece and delivered meals for the Meals on Wheels program. I was a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect, as I had never done this before. However, I needn’t have worried, as it was super simple. I checked in at the Meals on Wheels office at 10:30am along with about 20 other volunteer drivers that day, and was given my assigned route. The meals are already labeled with the recipient’s name and details and assembled in coolers. I was given excellent driving directions on the instruction sheet, and off we went. It was fun doing this with my niece and we turned it into a sort of treasure hunt, following the directions to the houses, and then giving the recipients their ‘treasure’. All of the people we met were very nice, and thanked us for bringing them their meals. Also, it happened to be my niece’s birthday on Tuesday, and I love that she wanted to help me out and do this on her birthday. I think it sets an example that we could all follow – doing something for others, especially on a day that is usually all about the birthday girl!
I thoroughly enjoy doing my bit in the garden every week, but I have also enjoyed this special assignment this week as I got to see for myself how the vegetables are being put to good useand how they are just one part a large chain of helping others. There are so many people that participate in some form of community service, and without that involvement many of these programs could not survive. So, I give a big shout out to all the volunteers out there – Thank You And Keep Up the Good Work!!