Garden program increases produce distribution
When there isn’t enough money for groceries to last to the end of the month, struggling families often turn to less expensive, unhealthy food options.
For Pamela and her family, fresh fruit and vegetables are always the first things to go when money is tight.
“I just can’t afford it,” she shared at a recent Ozarks Food Harvest Mobile Food Pantry distribution in Springfield. “It’s hard on everyone.”
Pamela, 59, lives off disability benefits and just last month took on the responsibility of caring for her grandson, Cage. As a diabetic, she knows that it’s crucial to watch her diet and eat unprocessed foods as often as possible.
“For me, it’s the most important because it gives you the healthiest benefits and it’s fresh. It’s everything to me because of my health,” she said of the box of produce she received from Ozarks Food Harvest. “Hopefully with this help I can give Cage healthy meals and actually be able to cook meals.”
Ozarks Food Harvest is committed to providing the most nutritious food possible. More than 20 percent of the nearly 16 million pounds of food distributed in the last year was fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Hunger in America 2014 study reported that 84 percent of OFH clients surveyed have purchased inexpensive or unhealthy food when expenses were tight. Those same clients said that the most desired item from The Food Bank was produce.
That awareness of the need for more produce, and the success of the Glean Team harvesting 20,000 pounds of produce from area farms in the 2014 season, prompted an OFH Board member to get involved with a unique donation.
Board Secretary Dr. Meera Scarrow, and her husband, Dr. Alan Scarrow, co-own Ozarks Natural Foods, a farm east of Springfield, where they produce sustainably-raised beef.
The couple had set up 76 raised beds and a high tunnel at the farm, but were unable to use it for mass production.
“It’s not something we felt we were ever going to develop,” Meera Scarrow said. “My thought with bringing the land to The Food Bank was increasing produce production, being the backbone of the Glean Team and increasing awareness of farmers.”
The donation of land comes just as OFH re-launched Full Circle Gardens. The program helps strengthen the local food system by rescuing fresh produce for those in need, harvesting donors’ fields and gardens and providing assistance through community partnerships to teach clients how to grow their own food supply.
The land at Ozarks Natural Foods now serves as a home base for the Glean Team.
Glean Team volunteers and Food Bank staff prepared the beds for crops in early March and began planting within the month. Between the high tunnel and raised beds, Ozarks Food Harvest hopes to grow between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds of produce.
For the people that rely on Ozarks Food Harvest, more produce means healthier, home cooked meals.
“I am so excited to have this, because I had to struggle with fixing something for supper last night,” Pamela said after receiving food from the mobile pantry. “We had one apple left and Cage got that last night, so this is very, very important.”
If you have a garden, consider planting an extra row for Ozarks Food Harvest, and if you are a farmer, contact The Food Bank if you have extra crops for the Glean Team to harvest. Together we can provide nutritious, healthy food to people who are struggling with hunger in the Ozarks.