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Growing food for those in need
Guardian Angels volunteers donating bushel baskets of fresh veggies to food shelves
Summer’s scorching hot days do not keep Maggie Lindberg from putting on a long-sleeved shirt and garden gloves to tend to a community garden.
Despite high humidity and blazing sun, Lindberg never veers off her Post-it note list of tasks - adding mulch to the garden, weeding, watering and caring for the cauliflower.
“We’re still out here,” Lindberg said with a chuckle on a recent 94-degree day.
Lindberg is the co-coordinator of the three-fourths acre community garden at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale. She and approximately 60 people care for the garden and donate its bounty to local food shelves.
The parish is part of a trend among businesses, service organizations and faith communities on a mission to feed the hungry with locally grown vegetables and fruits.
Providing food for the hungry
The North St. Paul Area Emergency Food Shelf - one of the three food shelf beneficiaries - appreciates the harvest from the Guardian Angels’ garden.
“The people really enjoy getting this fresh produce,” said Linda Zick of the food shelf.
And fresh it is - volunteers deliver the produce either immediately after it’s picked or within the next 12 hours to the food shelf.
The North St. Paul Area Emergency Food Shelf serves 250 families per month in the North St. Paul and Oakdale areas. The food shelf used to serve residents of Maplewood as well, but could not handle the high demand, Zick said.
The food shelf’s situation is not uncommon in Minnesota. In fact, the state’s poverty rates are increasing and more people are experiencing chronic hunger.
According to U.S. Census Bureau report for 2007-2011, 11 percent of Minnesotans are below poverty level. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 10.2 percent of households in Minnesota during 2009-2011 suffered from low or very low food security, meaning that these families are unsure about their next meal.
Food for those in need
The Guardian Angels Church’s garden has provided fresh food for those in need for 19 years. Typically, the garden yields 10,000 pounds of produce each year. Last year’s harvest made records with 11,547.6 pounds, which is almost six tons.
Despite this year’s late spring, Lindberg said the garden is, for the most part, on schedule. Gardeners planted seeds at their homes and then transplanted the plants to the garden, ensuring a bountiful harvest.
Currently, beans, peas, cauliflower, broccoli and beets are among the types of produce the gardeners are harvesting.
The volunteers come three times a week to do various tasks, including watering, weeding and picking, as well as prepping, weighing and bagging the produce.
Terri Watschke has been involved with the garden for more than 10 years. She spends between seven to 14 hours a week in the garden.
“It’s an added value to the community,” Watshcke said. “We have many people who need food.”
The community garden trend
In 1995 when Lindberg and garden co-coordinator Barb Prokop planted the first seedlings in the Guardian Angels plot, fresh produce donated from community gardens was a rare thing, Lindberg said.
Now this once-exceptional idea is a common practice among churches and businesses.
Blue Cross Blue Shield is just one example.
The Minnesota health insurance company initiated its Community Giving Garden program in 2007 to provide vegetables and fruits to local food shelves. Blue Cross Blue Shield is part of the 15-plus companies in the Twin Cities Corporate Giving Garden Network that grow produce on their corporate campuses to donate to food shelves.
Blue Cross Blue Shield’s community gardens in Eagan and Virginia provided 1,350 pounds of produce last year to those in need.
Similarly, Land O’Lakes sponsors and maintains community gardens at various locations throughout Minnesota, including Arden Hills and Shoreview.
A blossoming future
Although community gardens are springing up all over, the garden at Guardian Angels Catholic Church remains unique for its long-time commitment to serving the hungry, Lindberg said.
Only one vegetable item has experienced some minor setbacks this summer. Lindberg said they are unsure of the cauliflower crop - it’s been a problematic produce for the church garden in the past. The gardeners tried a new technique this year and have their fingers crossed that it will be a successful harvest.
Other than the unruly cauliflower - and of course the occasional unwanted 13-lined ground squirrel visitor - the garden is on the road for another large harvest.
With each year comes new improvements to the garden, almost all of which are the result of volunteers’ hard work and donated materials. Volunteers are building elevated garden beds so people who have difficulty bending over can still practice their green thumbs.
People from all walks of life have joined Guardian Angels’ mission to feed the hungry. Garden volunteers range from preschoolers to retirees and from parishioners to non-parishioners.
Those interested can call the church to find out more information at 651-738-2223 or stop by during volunteer hours, which are 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays; 3 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, and 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturdays.
Jill Yanish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651-748-7825.