Garden benefits Parker food bank

Douglas County master gardeners Dave Smukler and Debbie Avila deliver produce to the Parker Task Force Sept. 25. Courtesy photo
Chris Michlewicz
Posted

What began as an idea to help a local nonprofit has sprouted into an operation that has saved thousands of dollars and put food on the tables of Douglas and Elbert county families.

Since June, the Parker Task Force food bank has received dozens of shipments of freshly picked fruits and vegetables totaling more than 1,500 pounds. Diane Roth, spokeswoman for the volunteer task force, said the donation reduced costs by around $1,500.

The produce came from an innovative experiment in which master green thumbs, including Roth’s husband, Jeff, have put their expertise to work. The Hidden Mesa orchard and vegetable garden, part of a larger research and demonstration initiative by Douglas County, generated a higher-than-expected yield during an unseasonably warm summer. That was great news for the task force.

“Instead of going to the grocery store to buy lettuce, squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe and that sort of thing, we saved that money,” Diane Roth said. “And we noticed that the clients really look forward to the fresh produce.”

When the deliveries were coming once a week every Tuesday, the natural goods were gone by the end of Friday. However, the quick success, in spite of a delay in planting, enabled the gardeners from the CSU Extension office to harvest twice a week.

Dave Smukler, a volunteer who oversees the vegetable garden, said he initially did not think much about the impact the produce would have until he saw the appreciation from task force helpers.

“I saw how much it meant to people,” he said. “That was the goal from the beginning.”

Smukler has grown so many tomatoes and beans at his own home that he also donated those to the organization, which serves Parker, Franktown and Elizabeth families seeking food assistance. The money saved on produce will further help the task force during its capital campaign to raise $1 million to build its own facility.

Roth said she is anxious to bring the message to the public because the partnership between Douglas County, the master gardeners and the task force is one that could be replicated. It all started with a simple idea.

“This group of master gardeners was already working in the county’s experimental fruit orchard at (Hidden) Mesa Open Space when they came up with the idea to add a vegetable garden and donate the produce to the Parker Task Force,” said Andy Hough, who is overseeing the entire experimentation and public education project for the county. “This was the first year for this project and we plan to continue our efforts next season.”

Click here to read more about the orchard and garden: http://www.ourcoloradonews.com/parker/news/experimental-orchard-garden-to-yield-lessons/article_622ad152-0827-11e2-8c15-0019bb2963f4.html

Summer donations, by the pound:

• 603 pounds of squash

• 119 pounds of lettuce

• 211 pounds of cucumbers

• 357 pounds of melon

• 114 pounds of tomatoes