For several years, South Hills Interfaith Ministries (SHIM) has been trying to figure out the best way to provide fresh produce at their two food pantries. The families served are eager to receive fresh vegetables, but SHIM has struggled to establish an efficient system of purchase and distribution.
This year, a small garden (30' x 40') was planted, named "Boaz Fields" after the generous landowner in the book of Ruth. It has yielded, so far, an astonishing 1500 pounds of fresh vegetables and herbs for SHIM's two food pantries.
From the first harvest on June 5th to the most recent on September 12th, and harvesting about 1-2 times per week, the variety and yield are as follows, all in pounds: zucchini, 517; tomatoes, 477; cherry tomatoes, 154; Swiss chard, 102; green beans, 69; beets, 25; cucumbers, 13; peppers, 15; lettuce, 14; other greens, 4; eggplant, 7; various herbs, 37. Wow!
Members of St. Paul's, Mt. Lebanon, were instrumental in leading this effort by digging in and getting their hands dirty. Pat Eagon Stafford, a member of the diocesan Social Justice and Outreach committee and past chair of St. Paul's outreach commission, is co-chair of the garden project for SHIM, along with husband Jim Stafford and Becky Henninger of St. Bernard's RC Church in Mt. Lebanon.
The Rev. Kris McInnes, Associate Rector at St. Paul's, was on hand to bless the space and the initial planting.
This growing season was a pilot program. The intention was to start small and manageable, with a long-term goal of expanding the Boaz Fields project to other sites and involve other congregations, schools, and other participants.
Our diocesan Social Justice and Outreach committee would like to see this program expanded and will actively solicit assistance from our parishes for the upcoming growing season.
The garden committee is preparing a "how-to" guide to assist other groups in identifying space and setting up similar projects, and Pat and Jim Stafford would be happy to provide this guide and advice as needed.
"We have learned a lot this first year about what works and what doesn't," said Pat. "This garden has been truly blessed, and its output has been beyond our wildest dreams. If any parish has a bit of extra land (or several small pieces) and a desire to create growing spaces, fall is a good time to prepare the soil and get some basic testing done. A few volunteers and a little space can make a huge difference in the quality of food for needy people".
Pat Eagon Stafford can be contacted at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy South Hills Interfaith Ministries