Garden program in Butler County helps to encourage interest in locally grown produce
Dave Harmon has never eaten — nor given away — more fresh vegetables and fruit as he has in the past two years.
“I split the vegetables and fruits with my girlfriend. There are older people who live in my building, and sometimes, I give them things. They are always thrilled,” said Harmon, who lives in Avalon and gets weekly shipments from the community-supported agriculture program at Glade Run Lutheran Services, a social services organization in Zelienople.
Glade Run, a nonprofit operated by the Lutheran Church, runs a residential program for 85 children and adolescents diagnosed with mental health conditions. This year is the third that Glade Run will sell produce that residents grow on the Zelienople property.
The effort is in step with increasing consumer interest in locally grown and organic foods. From Avella in Washington County to Sligo in Clarion County, there are dozens of farms in Western Pennsylvania that participate in CSA programs, as they are known.
In many American cities, including Pittsburgh, vacant lots are giving way to community gardens, often underwritten by nonprofits and local governments.
“Locally grown food is fresher and leaves less of a carbon footprint. It has become more and more popular in the past 10 years,” said Danielle Marvit, a therapeutic agriculture specialist who runs the Glade Run program.
The 65 families who buy from Glade Run receive weekly shipments for 18 weeks each year, from mid-June through mid-October. They pick up the shipments at five locations, mostly in the North Hills.
The shipments include cut flowers, herbs, lettuces, field greens, spinach and tomatoes. In autumn, the shipments include winter squash, pumpkins and broccoli. Glade Run works in collaboration with about 10 other area farmers.
Getting a share costs $374 for a small box or $464 for a large one.
“It would be cheaper than a retailer,” said Julie Wahlenmayer, horticultural program coordinator at Glade Run, who oversees the program.
There is some risk, according to Local Harvest, a website that promotes community agriculture.
Members pay upfront for the whole season, and the farmers do their best to provide an abundant box of produce each week. But if bad weather limits production, members are usually not reimbursed.
Last year, four boys who live at Glade Run farmed a parcel of about an acre and a half, she said. The residents are paid minimum wage. Proceeds from the sales of the produce goes to pay the boys who work in the garden and to buy supplies.
There have been some surprises in the two years since the program started.
“We tried a field of pumpkins once, but groundhogs ate all of them. They also ate all of the heirloom tomatoes,” Wahlenmayer said.
A volunteer group from FedEx installed a high-intensity electric fence around part of the garden to solve the problem.
The program is as good for the boys who have worked in it as it is for customers, said Marvit, who plans to expand what is grown this summer.
“There is such a disconnect with food, especially with kids. They think that all food comes from a box, bag or can,” she said.
Marvit plans to teach the young growers some of the basics of cooking.
“We want to teach them how to cook. A simple thing like a fresh homemade pizza would taste better than anything you could get in a supermarket,” she said.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or email@example.com.