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Vegetarian Journal Nov/Dec 1998

Vegetarian Action

Non-Profit Organic Farms Help Needy Urban Individuals

by Lydia Ries

In the liberated country air and the rolling hills of northern Baltimore County, MD, there is a small organic farm called Garden Harvest. The farm does not sell its produce to local health food stores, nor does it participate in the farmers' markets. It does not depend on share-holding customers and there is no intended profit to be made. The main purpose of Garden Harvest is to provide fresh organic produce to food banks, soup kitchens, and emergency food pantries that are in constant need of fresh produce for an ever-growing number of needy individuals. Garden Harvest provides food to such organizations all over the state of Maryland, as well as Washington, DC, Virginia, and Delaware.

Edie and Jim Dasher, the founders of Garden Harvest, began gardening organically in 1993. First they farmed 1/4 of an acre of land informally with friends and neighbors. Growing fresh organic foods for themselves was the priority at the time, and any surplus was donated to food banks. By 1994, their priority had switched to developing a garden that donated all of its produce to food banks.

Since the official start of the program in 1994, more and more volunteers have participated throughout the season. In 1994, there were about 350 volunteers helping to harvest 35,000 pounds of food. By 1996, Garden Harvest was fully funded and produced 205,270 pounds of produce with the help of more than 3,000 people.

The volunteers at Garden Harvest come from many backgrounds but with one common goal: to give back to the community. They are curious and enthusiastic, and many of them are working with organic gardening for the first time. These unpaid workers are Baltimore City college students, families from local synagogues, community and church groups, high school environmental groups, service and learning students from local junior high and high schools, and even staff from professional corporations, such as Baltimore Gas and Electric and T. Rowe Price. Garden Harvest does not publicly advertise for helpers, but instead relies solely on the positive word the volunteers spread. They continue to return because of the location of the farm; it gives them a chance to work for their community while enjoying the peacefulness of the country.

In addition to their donations to food banks, they also strive to educate people about the ethics of growing organically and some important farming techniques. One of their long-term goals is to have a fully accredited program to provide sustainable agricultural education to citizens of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. They are striving to develop a program with UMBC (University of Maryland-Baltimore County) similar to that of the University of California at Santa Cruz. This program will teach organic farming methods to students of all ages and abilities in cooperation with a large university. The East Coast will benefit greatly from such a program.

Each time volunteers go out to Garden Harvest they become educated about organic gardening and contribute to the Baltimore community. Garden Harvest's philosophy is to give the best to the people in the communities who need it the most.

Throughout the United States, not-for-profit organic farms are becoming more and more successful. Urban farms are also gaining in popularity, making organic gardens available to those who live in the city and may not otherwise have access to a workable piece of land. In Eugene, OR, there is a program called Grassroots Garden. It is located a few blocks from the heart of Eugene, among the cars, buses, and skyscraping city life. Like Garden Harvest, Grassroots works mainly with volunteers and receives most starting materials and cultivation tools from donors. Volunteers come from all backgrounds-students from local colleges and universities, local citizens, student conservation work crews, participants from the neighboring church that provides the land for the farm, and others curious about how an urban farm works.

You may already be involved in a program like this, or you may want to learn more about an existing one in your area. If you have a budding interest in organic gardening or are already a trained professional, try lending a hand to your local garden outreach program. A free grower list of Consumer Supported Agriculture can be obtained by calling (800) 516-7797. Ask for a list of farms and gardens in your area and get involved. Take a child with you and introduce him or her to the gifts of organic gardening. More help is needed during the growing season, but office work and the planning of the coming year's garden can always be done during the winter months.

Excerpts from the Nov/Dec Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

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