Food bank to grow its own

by Susan Felt – Apr. 21, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Gardener and former sous chef Bobby Smith will mark Earth Day on Wednesday by planting vegetables at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance’s 31st Avenue and Thomas Road distribution center, where food normally is gathered rather than grown.

It’s what this 40-year-old Midwest farm boy loves doing most: teaching people how to grow food in their own backyard.

In this case, his student will be Beverly Damore, director of community and marketing for the food bank that in March distributed 7 million pounds of food to the Valley’s hungry and homeless.

Smith, owner of Sustainably Yours Garden Management, is capitalizing on what Michelle Obama’s White House garden has helped make a popular pastime: backyard gardening.

When Smith approached St. Mary’s food bank with the garden idea – part of the Plant a Row Earth Day campaign to feed the hungry – he was hesitant about the location.

At the food bank’s three Valley distribution centers, extra space usually is reserved for parking, Damore said.

Smith, however, came up with an easy solution. He is planting in two large wine barrels, as gardens can do well in such containers. And it’s not too late to plant a summer garden and still harvest radishes by the end of May.

Smith will split one barrel lengthwise and the other in half, resulting in a garden of roughly 21 square feet. Smith would have liked to have planted more barrels, but was limited by available space.

“In a 10 (-foot) by 10 (-foot) space, you can rotate planting and you can feed all year long for a family of four,” he said.

Smith will rely on a compost his company produces, one that includes coffee grounds, eggshells, pineapple tops and fruit and vegetable scraps.

He’ll use heirloom seeds available at Sustainably Yours and local nurseries such as Southwest Gardener in Phoenix.

Smith will show workers how to water, fertilize, tend and harvest the summer crop of vegetables. In addition to radishes, the garden will include artichokes, pumpkins, pasilla peppers, honeydew, okra, zucchini, cucumbers, yellow squash, mustard greens, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley and crimson sweet watermelon.

The St. Mary’s “kitchen garden” will yield a 45-day supply of food beginning in late May with the radish harvest. It will continue through August when the pumpkins ripen. Once the harvest is over, Smith will replenish the soil and plant the fall garden.

Sixteen percent of the food distributed by the food bank is produce, most of which is from grocery stores, according to Damore of St. Mary’s.

“We welcome home-grown food,” Damore said, adding that the current economic downturn has increased demand 80 percent.


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