Friday, August 19, 2005

People’s Harvest targets hunger

The following article ran today in the Worcester MA Telegram & Gazette. I thought I'd post it here as an example of people trying to solve the problems many of my other posts discuss. The original article had a chart and photo, but those didn't pick up.

People's Harvest doesn't yet have a website, but I've added other links.


By Gus Steeves Correspondent

AUGUST 19, 2005

POMFRET (CT)— Food is something many people take for granted: Go to the store and it’s there.

Most people don’t see it quite the way Carl W. Asikainen and Lisa M. Hart do. They want others to consider how that food got there, where it came from, how those who can’t buy it will eat tonight, and what people can do locally to promote food security.

To help accomplish that, they founded People’s Harvest last spring. The all-volunteer group grows vegetables and collects produce from area farms to donate to local food kitchens, senior centers, shelters, and similar organizations that feed the needy. They made their first deliveries last month and have so far distributed about 700 pounds of produce, most of it donated by other farmers, to 15 nonprofit agencies.

“The average distance our food travels to get to the grocery store is 1,500 miles,” Mr. Asikainen said. “By emphasizing local (farming), we can call attention to hunger that exists close to home.”

Of Windham County’s 110,000 people, about “one in 10 are food-insecure, meaning they don’t know where they’re going to get their next meal,” he said. About 3 percent occasionally go without that meal.

As site coordinator of the food kitchen at the North Grosvenordale Methodist Church in Thompson, Shirley A. Wilbur was one of the first recipients of the distributions by People’s Harvest. Her kitchen serves about 50 meals every Monday, one of five area kitchens that does so on an assigned day every week. The other four are Methodist churches in Moosup, Danielson and Putnam, and a retreat center in Wauregan.

“We don’t get many fresh vegetables” from places other than People’s Harvest, she said, although some of the other sites do.

“It’s a good project. They help spread (fresh food) around so everyone gets a little of it,” Ms. Wilbur said.

People’s Harvest has a small garden at the vacant Averill Farm in Wolf Den State Park. This year they are growing squash, tomatoes, eggplants, and a few other vegetables, and plan to expand that to include fruit trees, corn, and other crops over the next year or two. Eventually, Mr. Asikainen said, they might seek certification as an organic farm, but are satisfied at present with simply using natural farming methods without fertilizers or pesticides.

The crops themselves, however, take a back seat to the organization’s primary role: educating about hunger and how people can grow their own food.

“In a few years, we’d like to see discrete gardens all over the county,” Mr. Asikainen said. “I don’t really want to be a food bank or a shipping organization. I want it to be more of a model and an opportunity for education on these issues.

Mrs. Hart was more direct: “We hope to bring (people) back to what gardening is,” she said, by turning the site into a center for exhibits, classes, workshops, and hands-on experience with plants, and bringing some of those events to local schools and other agencies.

“You don’t need a very large garden,” she said. “Even a four-by-eight or a three-by-six (foot) garden can produce a lot of food.”

One of their donors, Wayne M. Hansen of Oneco, agreed, saying, “I wish more people would learn to grow stuff because if you do that, you’re less disconnected from the Earth and other people.”

Mr. Hansen runs Wayne’s Organic Garden, a hand-tilled vegetable farm. He likes the fact that People’s Harvest exists because it enables him to donate food that he cannot sell, either because he’s got too much of it or because it “doesn’t look quite right.”

“I hate to see stuff go to waste. Some years, I don’t have anything extra, but this year I did,” he said.

For both founders, this project is an effort of love. Neither intended to be farmers, but realized this idea combined their areas of expertise, according to both Mr. Asikainen and Mrs. Hart.

For Mr. Asikainen, of Eastford, this project is a natural outgrowth of his full-time job with End Hunger Connecticut; in fact, that organization gives him time off to do it, although he said they can’t afford to pay him to do it. For Mrs. Hart, of Woodstock, it’s a somewhat more focused expression of her experience as a math and science teacher and former 4-H farm educator.

The foray into farming was actually a stroke of luck. Both grew up in Pomfret and thought the inactive state-owned farm would be a great place for their project, but were afraid to ask for it specifically when they raised the subject with the park ranger.

Fortunately for them, the ranger offered it to them.

“It took so long to get the ground ready this year because it hasn’t been farmed in so long,” Mr. Asikainen said. With other volunteers, they had to rip out extensive tree roots and pull up large swaths of poison ivy, among other challenges, he said.

They also hope to get Historical Commission funds to renovate the farm and barn, which date back to 1796 but have been vacant for at least a decade.


Edited 8/20 to add: You'll notice three deleted comments. I appreciate comments from folks who actually READ my blog, or even just visit it out of curiosity, but not from spam-bloggers trying to get me or others to visit their junk sites.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8/19/2005 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8/19/2005 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8/19/2005 12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No need to delete this one, jay. i'm just returning the favor, and letting you know i am blogrolling you. No SPAM From me , pal!

8/20/2005 6:04 PM  
Blogger Jay Denari said...

Thanks, Steve. I'll return the favor.

For the rest of you, his blog's called Distance, and is an interesting collection of writers discussing various social issues from a generally liberal perspective.

8/20/2005 6:59 PM  
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11/09/2005 1:46 AM  
Blogger dennis said...

Hello my name is Dennis and i live on the other side of the big pond in little old England

I have also formed an alliance called the peoples harvest
The alliance at this moment has 3 member groups

YMCA Liverpool
Mens DAC

All the above are homeless hostels

Our aim is to grow food for ourselves and the surplus food is donated to the local soup kitchens we are growing from strength to strength and have about four plots of land scattered around Liverpool that have been donated to our alliance

We do not have a website yet working on site design and hope our name does not clash with yours

If i can enter an e-mail for you to contact me please let me know on your site thank you


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