ELKHART — Church Community Services’ Seed to Feed program launched last year with two volunteer-tended community gardens and two fields of cash crops.
The program is entering the 2013 growing season with gardens and expanded acreage on the cash crop fields.
Elkhart County farmers have donated 11 head of cattle to the program to help stock the pantry’s refrigerators with fresh beef.
Last year the program produced 25,941 pounds of fresh vegetables and $50,000 cash to help run the food pantry at Church Community Services and other pantries in Elkhart County.
“Last year was really amazing considering (the program) was just thrown together piecemeal,” said Katie Jantzen, Seed to Feed co-coordinator. “We ended up with an incredible yield, especially with the drought.”
“Last year we took whatever we could get,” said co-coordinator Dave Hochstetler.
The program grew donated seeds on donated land as the donations trickled in.
This year, they have been able to plan crops ahead of time, Jantzen said.
“We’ve been able to lay out the planting schedule for crop rotation,” she said.
Kruse Greenhouse offered to help raise the program’s plants to seedlings, giving them a jumpstart on the season and donated wells provide much-needed water for the gardens.
“Water is a big issue,” Hochstetler said.
There has actually been so much rain this year they had to delay planting, Jantzen said.
“Mother Nature balances it out,” Hochstetler said. “If it’s dry one year, it’s wet the next.”
People have donated money for the program to dig wells at each of the garden locations, so if the summer gets too dry, the gardens will have a nearby water source.
In addition to providing fresh produce for Elkhart County food pantries, Seed to Feed is working to educate families on nutrition and raising their own food.
Jantzen said they hope to provide recipes to help families cook with unfamiliar vegetables.
“When you get something in a can or a box, it comes with instructions (for preparation),” Hochstetler said. “Fresh produce is different.”
The garden located at Church Community Services will be an “educational garden” to help teach people how to grow their own food, Jantzen said.
The effort has expanded to some private gardens as well.
Chloe Wall, 14, of Goshen, has volunteered to plant produce for Seed to Feed in her own small garden this summer.
Her mother, Zoann Wall, dropped off several dozen fresh eggs from the family’s chickens for the food panty and Jantzen helped Chloe choose some seeds to plant.
Zoann Wall said she has been gardening for years and Chloe has been asking to have a garden of her own. They have set up 128 square feet of raised beds for Chloe to manage.
She selected seeds for peas, radishes, beets, cilantro, spaghetti squash, summer squash, turnips and green beans.
Jantzen said she doesn’t anticipate home gardens becoming a large part of the Seed to Feed program, but said she hopes Chloe’s initiative will be inspiring to her friends and encourage them to get involved in the community.
Donations from private gardens do help stock the food pantry shelves near the end of the summer.
“A lot of people have gardens and come July they have extra zucchini and they’ll bring that in,” Jantzen said.
With plenty of donated land and seeds ready to go, Seed to Feed is seeking volunteers to weed the gardens and harvest crops.
“We’re at a point where we can’t manage it ourselves,” Jantzen said.
Jantzen said about 200 volunteers helped tend the gardens last year.
Anyone interested in volunteering should contact the volunteer coordinator for the garden in which they would like to work. The garden at River Oaks Community Church is run by a ministry group within the church, Jantzen said.
Seed to Feed gardens
Goshen Garden, 14723 C.R. 36, Goshen; volunteer hours, 5:30 p.m. Monday; coordinator, Jeremy Shue, 574-536-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bullard Garden, 22104 C.R. 14, Elkhart; volunteer hours, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday; coordinator, Kurt Bullard, 574-298-9059 or email@example.com
CCS Garden, 902 Thomas St., Elkhart; volunteer hours, 8 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday; coordinators: Heidi Rupley, 574-612-4039 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Jay Little, 574-621-4877 or email@example.com
Northwest Goshen Garden, 538 S. Indiana Ave., Goshen; volunteer hours, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday; coordinator, Andrea Milne, 574-400-5858 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Heart’s Desire Garden, 3030 Old U.S. 20, Elkhart; volunteer hours, 5:30 p.m. Thursday; coordinator, Dave Hochstetler, 574-349-4905 or email@example.com