Friday, September 24, 2010

Seeds of hope: Master Gardeners help feed the hungry

Missed Friday's Enterprise?  Check out this reprint of Patty Rominger's fabulous feature story and stop by the Food Bank to check out the Master Gardeners in action in classes & in our Demonstration Garden!

By Patty Rominger
Special to The Enterprise
September 24, 2010 09:16

Courtesy of the Davis Enterprise

Hunger hurts. It hurts children, families, the elderly, the ill and those on the edge or those homeless. According to the Food Bank of Yolo County, 30,000 Yolo County residents live with the threat of hunger. But government officials, business leaders and volunteers continue to work together toward a goal of ending hunger across the nation.

One group of local volunteers, busy planting seeds of hope and help for the hungry, are the Yolo County Master Gardeners. They're familiar faces at local farmers markets, offering answers and advice for seasonal gardening questions. What many people do not realize, however, is the role the Master Gardeners play in alleviating hunger.

Yolo County Master Gardener Cidney Barcellos tells how she got involved in feeding the hungry. A longtime member of the Davis United Methodist Church, she was invited by a fellow church member to visit a garden at a church in Santa Rosa. The fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs harvested from this garden had fed hungry people in Santa Rosa for more than 20 years.

After touring that garden, 'I felt called to provide food for the homeless and those living on the edge,' Barcellos said. 'I know that one of the first things to be diminished or eliminated from their grocery lists is fresh produce, and yet it is so much better for you and the taste is incomparable to canned vegetables.'

Barcellos teamed up with fellow Master Gardener Gwen Oliver and started a garden at the church on Anderson Road. Last spring, they began donating produce to the Friday's Harvest program administered through the Davis Korean Church. At that time, Friday's Harvest was handing out 70 to 80 bags of produce to the needy each week. With the extra food from the Davis UMC's Grace Garden, that number has grown to 100 to 120 bags distributed each week.

The church garden has four, 4-by-50-foot beds, four raised beds and a demonstration area. The current plan is to double the garden size so even more fresh produce can be given to Friday's Harvest.

Many hands pitch in to keep this garden going, and Barcellos and Oliver are happy to welcome new volunteers from the church and community, regardless of their gardening experience.

At Woodland Community College, Master Gardeners have a working demonstration garden and orchard that they use for teaching the public about successful home gardening techniques. Four Master Gardeners led by Steve Radosevich, as well as students in Jim Schulte's horticulture classes, meet at the college garden every Wednesday morning to harvest the food grown there.

'In early August we started donating extra produce - squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant - to the Food Bank of Yolo County,' Radosevich said. 'Two weeks ago, we made our largest delivery of 184 pounds of food and we estimate our total to date to be about 450 pounds.'

Thanks to the efforts of Master Gardener Florentino Castellon, the college garden also donates about the same amount of food to the Child Development Center at WCC. Nearly 40 children ages 2 to 5, offspring of full-time and part-time WCC students, are enrolled.

Anna Weidling of the Child Development Center says, 'Teaching our students about healthy eating is a top priority. We serve three healthy homemade meals a day to our students, including fresh vegetables grown right here on our campus by the Master Gardeners.

'The children have helped with some of the planting and have enjoyed watching the vegetables grow. And because of the abundance of food, we have been able to offer our parents vegetables to take home and serve to their families, again reinforcing our teaching of healthy eating and the garden-to-food connection.'

Radosevich and Master Gardener Robert Dragoon also have started a demonstration 'square foot' garden at the Food Bank of Yolo County, with the goal of encouraging food recipients to grow their own vegetables. A 'square foot' garden is somewhat like a patchwork quilt, with each square foot planted with a different variety of vegetable. A surprisingly large amount of food can be grown in relatively small spaces using 'square foot' gardening practices, the gardeners say.

Master Gardeners also are at work feeding the hungry in Davis. In 2006, a community effort began to bring new life to the Central Park Gardens in Davis. The redeveloped area on B Street now features seven themed gardens with a variety of California natives, wildlife-attracting, drought-tolerant and edible plantings.

Master Gardener volunteers maintain, plant and harvest the seasonal edible plantings garden where vegetables, fruits, herbs and edible flowers thrive in the sunny environment. All of the garden's harvest is donated to Davis Community Meals, a nonprofit, nondenominational organization whose mission is to provide low-income and homeless individuals and families with housing, food and human services.

Using the fresh produce donated, Davis Community Meals serves meals prepared by volunteers every Tuesday evening and Saturday afternoon at the Episcopal Church of St. Martin. About 30 people are served at each meal.

'In the spring and summer, warm-season crops such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, basil, melons, cucumbers, squash and sunflowers are the major contributions,' says Peg Smith, a Master Gardener volunteer at the Davis Central Park Gardens. 'At the end of the 2009 summer season, more than 20 butternut squash weighing approximately 2 1/2 pounds each were donated. That made a lot of soup!'

In the fall and winter, cool-season crops are donated, including a wide variety of leafy greens, broccoli, onions, radishes and beets. By rotating crops and planting continuous seasonal plantings, the Davis Central Park Gardens vegetable garden has developed into a year-round garden and will continue to provide fresh produce donations all year.

Efforts are also under way in West Sacramento to establish gardens at two elementary schools and at River City High School. These gardens will provide a source of fresh produce to students and their families, as well as educate students on where and how food is produced.

Also, through October, the Urban Farm Stand is selling fresh produce in the Broderick neighborhood of West Sacramento, which is underserved by traditional grocery stores. Leftover produce is donated to the Food Bank of Yolo County. Active participants in these efforts have included Yolo County Master Gardeners Fred Deneke, Henry Garcia-Alvarez, Del Giese, Leslie Olaya, Jan Resier and Don and Diane Rake.

For more information about the Yolo County Master Gardener program, call the Yolo County Cooperative Extension Office in Woodland at (530) 666-8143 or visit

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