Aug 7th, 2018

Growing Food for Those in Need

People right here in Central Virginia struggle with hunger every day. The populations most likely to be affected by hunger, children and the elderly, may have trouble not only getting enough food but getting the right kind of food  — fresh locally grown vegetables and fruits. The Kroger Community Kitchen Garden is working to change that. Each year,  we plant, grow and harvest thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits and donate them to FeedMore, our local food bank, which in turn supplies meals to Kids Cafe and Meals on Wheels feeding programs, reaching those most vulnerable populations.

image of marigolds and green peppers

Marigolds and peppers work well together as companion plants.

The Community Kitchen Garden requires volunteers to plant, water, weed and harvest the produce.  Each year, we partner with HandsOn Greater Richmond, corporate volunteers and other community groups to grow this food. Corporate sponsors are really helping out. Kroger joined as a new sponsor in 2017, we’ve been able to add an orchard with blackberries, plum, apple, peach, pear and other fruit trees thanks to Genworth.

We continue to find creative ways to extend the growing season. For example, a new addition this year is cold frames to that we used to start plants early.  In selecting trees for our new orchard, we researched which varieties would do best here, produce the most fruit.  For many years we have partnered with Charlottesville’s Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants to get heirloom seeds tested by Thomas Jefferson himself for the Virginia growing conditions. We also use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), crop rotation and organic management practices whenever possible.

Since 2009, staff and volunteers at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden have harvested and donated over 50,000 pounds of vegetables to FeedMore’s Community Kitchen and supplemented more than 42,000 meals for Central Virginia’s hungry children and homebound seniors. More recently we also started donating to LAMB’s Basket.  It turns out that FeedMore’s Community Kitchen can’t easily use smaller harvests from the Garden like just a few pounds of vegetables when a crop is either just starting out or winding down for the season. One of the great things about LAMB’s Basket is it is just down the road in Northside, serving neighbors in need nearby.

image of an open cold frame with lettuce seedlings

A cold frame is a box frame, built into the ground, that traps heat and shelters plants from frost, extending the growing season in late winter and early spring.

Companion Planting is used to create plant communities that have mutual benefits. The benefits of Companion Planting include sheltering fragile plants from the elements, attracting beneficial insects, improving soil quality, and reducing the need for 

Volunteers play a huge role in the daily Garden operations. Dedicated volunteer groups including youth volunteers, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden volunteers, plus a variety of corporate volunteers. Volunteers have made the Garden what it is today –from planting, pruning, and weeding, to harvesting produce and delivering donations to food banks. Once the produce gets to FeedMore, even more volunteers join in, helping with from everything from kitchen prep to delivering the meals.  These devoted volunteers are crucial to the success of the Kroger Community Kitchen Garden and are knocking out hunger one harvest at a time. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or an enthusiastic beginner, you’re invited to join us in feeding our neighbors.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to volunteer Karen Bullard for contributing this blog post. 

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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