By Marion McParland, PHS
Harvest 2020, a new initiative developed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, is using gardening to address food insecurity in our region. Almost 12% of our neighbors are currently affected by a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables – and this number continues to grow during the COVID-19 crisis. By encouraging and inspiring people to garden and share their crops, Harvest 2020 is improving the health and well-being of families living in our area. Now, with the help of partners in neighboring Delaware, the benefits of the Harvest 2020 initiative are being shared with even more families and individuals in need.
As gardeners and communities around the region come together to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH) and the Food Bank of Delaware have partnered with PHS in this effort to grow, donate, and distribute produce to those in need on behalf of Harvest 2020.
“We are incredibly proud to be a part of this vitally important effort led by PHS to engage our extensive network of home and community gardeners to help feed our communities with locally grown fruits and vegetables,” says Vikram Krishnamurthy, Delaware Center for Horticulture Executive Director.
Instrumental in making this partnership work, the Food Bank of Delaware has taken an active role in the collection and distribution of donated produce. “This partnership has helped promote to the public the importance of growing and donating their extra produce to help impact hunger in Delaware though access to fresh and healthy food,” says Larry Haas, Chief Development Officer, Food Bank of Delaware. “To date, over 500 pounds of produce grown in home and community gardens has been donated to the Food Bank of Delaware.”
Leading by Example:
When DCH joined forces with PHS to share the bounty of Harvest 2020 with Delaware residents, they took the lead in this initiative by pledging themselves to share fruits and vegetables grown at their own E. D. Robinson Urban Farm on the east side of Wilmington at 12th and Brandywine Streets. Owned by the City of Wilmington, the property is leased long-term to DCH. Covering 1600 square feet, the garden is made up of both community gardening and production beds. It is lovingly cared for by DCH Urban Farm Coordinator Adrienne Spencer, (pictured above), who began her involvement with DCH as a member, and then a volunteer, seven years ago.
While there has always been a farm stand at this site every summer, this year DCH decided to make a pledge to Harvest 2020 by sharing food with local families on Thursdays, as well as a women’s shelter across the street, and three Emmanuel Dining Rooms operated by the Ministry of Caring in the neighborhood. “It’s very rewarding. Nothing has discouraged me more in past summers than having to compost leftover food because I didn’t have enough people to share it with. Harvest 2020 has changed that,” says Spencer.
She is currently filling six to ten boxes every Thursday morning with squash, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, and green tomatoes to share. Her appreciative recipients include neighborhood families, women living at a transitional housing facility nearby (many of whom come over and volunteer in the garden), and others who express a need. In addition, she drops off boxes at the doorsteps of elderly residents, or anyone who is unable to pick one up in person. Any leftovers are given to a local Food Bank of Delaware distribution site through Harvest 2020.
Spencer takes everything into consideration as she schedules her planting and harvesting – the weather, the pandemic, and the pests. “Because we are an organic farm, Mother Nature’s heat and humidity this summer have brought white flies to my kale and harlequin beetles to my beans,” she says. “I plan for the worst and hope for the best,” she says. “We are starting to see green peppers, tomatoes, squash, and beans.”
Between COVID-19 and this summer’s back-to-back heat waves, volunteers have been scarce. “We’re limited to nine people at a time on the site,” says Spencer. Working sometimes solo at the farm, Spencer has overseen planting, weeding, harvesting, and assembling boxes of seasonal food every week. More than a full-time endeavor for this 67-year-old, she is often joined by her grown son in the garden to help. She is getting ready to plant kale, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, and possibly green beans, for the fall.
I think it’s a great idea, especially for a farm like ours,” says Spencer. “We aren’t profit driven. Our goal is to provide access to families who do not have access to fresh produce. Harvest 2020 is precisely aligned with our mission to provide food to families who cannot afford to purchase it at the continuously rising prices.”
“I hope this program can continue, whether there’s a pandemic or not,” says Spencer. “It’s a great way to make sure children get fresh fruits and vegetables. Hopefully, it can expand and provide families whose needs have gone unfilled in the past with fresh food.”