MADISON -- In its 65th year of service, lack of fresh, healthy produce in the food pantry is no longer a problem for the Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC).
An over one-acre community garden began providing produce for the center this spring. The garden, which has been in existence for 12 years, is one of three overseen by a local volunteer group, Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens.
Offering fresh produce
Obtaining a food pantry garden has significantly helped address a challenge that the CMC constantly faced in the past: finding fresh produce to offer in the food pantry.
In its first year benefitting the CMC, the garden produced thousands of pounds of food. Not only did the garden allow the center to offer more produce, it provided guests with a variety of produce. Potatoes, kale, green peppers, zucchini, and several kinds of tomatoes are just a few of the foods that grew in the garden.
The growing space was planned to include spring, summer, and fall producing plants, ensuring that plenty of produce was growing all season long.
Clients appreciate food
The results of the new program ultimately depended upon the clients who use the food pantry. After all, growing thousands of pounds of vegetables isn’t helpful if no one consumes them.
During brief individual interviews, four CMC food pantry clients all agreed that the availability of fresh produce in food pantries is “very important.” For varying reasons, all were happy to have the choice of produce from the garden.
One respondent was very concerned about making sure their children ate healthy food. Another felt that fresh fruits and vegetables are much better tasting, and healthier, than processed produce from a box or can. One pointed out that fresh produce is more versatile to cook with.
All but one respondent were new to the food pantry this year, so they were unable to compare this year (when fresh produce was available) to last year (when fresh produce from the garden was not available).
However one client said that the CMC food pantry has a much wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables compared to other food pantries they’d used. This variety was made possible through the volunteers who helped the garden grow.
Volunteers help garden grow
The over one-acre garden required a lot of care all season long. Its success was made possible by all of the people volunteering their time to help with planting, harvesting, and upkeep.
Work sessions took place every Monday and Thursday morning at all three Madison Area Food Pantry gardens. In addition, CMC volunteers came Wednesday evenings for the latter half of the growing season to ensure the bounty of the garden reached the center’s clients.
The CMC recruited its own volunteers to work in the garden, but collaboration with Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens was crucial.
Next year, the CMC hopes to build upon the gardening experience it acquired this season. Based on client comments and usage of produce at the food pantry, the center will be able to plan garden space to better meet client needs.