Archive for the ‘community gardens’ Category

The Lemon Lady: Feeding the Hungry, One Bag of Produce at a Time

October 22, 2009

The Lemon Lady needs a new nickname, methinks.

Anna Chan, 37, has outgrown the title, which doesn’t begin to describe the difference this anti-hunger activist has made in less than a year in her one-woman campaign to get fresh produce into the mouths of people in need in her community.

This stay-at-home mom from Clayton, in Contra Costa County, has (almost) single-handedly harvested, by her own estimates, 12,000 pounds of local produce from neighbors’ front yards. She’s also collected more than $60,000 surplus fruit and veg from local farmers’ markets, which she hauls in the back of her SUV to food pantries in her area. And she’s donated hundreds of seedlings and helped plant veggie gardens in her county in the hope that she can inspire others to grow their own row — and feed their families whole food.

In September I spent several hours watching Anna in action. We met at one of her many pet projects, a modest but thriving veggie patch in a low-income neighborhood of Concord. (Anna got involved with the garden after being approached by Kathy Gleason,  corporate donations coordinator for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, who sewed the seeds for this edible effort on her own time by getting to know the neigborhood and seeking out other volunteers.)

Out of one of the apartments popped a proud mom who gave me a spontaneous tour of the garden before Anna even pulled up. Begun with seedlings tended and donated by The Lemon Lady, the summer bounty included tomato, eggplant, pepper, and squash. When Anna arrived, the three of us chatted about the challenges of raising corn and the ease of growing Asian greens such as mizuna. We were just three moms, one Japanese, one American, one Australian, talking about the joys of making tomato sauce from scratch with homegrown produce to feed our hungry kids.

anna.chan.lemon.lady.2Before we left, Anna gave the grateful woman a seed catalog, with the promise of more seeds to come for a fall crop. Next stop: The lively Concord Farmers’ Market, where Anna distributes cardboard boxes and chats with vendors when they’re not serving customers. Farmers such as the pear purveyors from Alhambra Valley Farms and the Bautista Ranch veggie peddlers willingly pack up leftover produce for her to cart away at the end of the market to take to local food pantries, including the Salvation Army, SHARE Pantry, and Monument Crisis Center.

While the market was in full swing, I sat down with Anna to get a sense of what drives this former office manager to spend hundreds of hours volunteering for the greater good, one piece of produce at a time.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that a challenging childhood, made a little less rough by the kindness of strangers and community volunteers much like herself, serves as a constant reminder of the importance of giving back.  That’s not some pat charitable phrase for this petite and pretty woman; she knows what it’s like to encounter tough times and deal with health concerns. Now, blessed with a thriving toddler, a supportive dentist husband, and a happy home life, she wants to help others less fortunate than herself. Plus, the gal has a big heart, a passion for nutritious home cooking, and energy that doesn’t quit. (Typically she does a farmers’ market surplus run four days a week.)

Anna’s efforts add a public service spin on the au courant activity known as fruit foraging. She combines two old-fashioned concepts: gleaning and doing good, and in a time of great need (one local food pantry recently closed for a day; demand is so high it ran out of food) she simply cannot stand to see perfectly good produce go to waste.

Not surprisingly, those she comes in contact with sing her praises. “She’s a local gem,” says Jessie Neu, the director of the Contra Costa Certified Farmers’ Market. “She’s a life saver,” says one food-distribution volunteer from a local food bank. The California Garden Clubs recently honored Anna for her community service and her efforts to promote growing greens and getting fresh, nutritious food to hungry people.

And it all began way back in February, when this suburban mom was simply trying to find a way to soothe her colicky child to sleep. Anna resorted to driving her fussy, nap-fighting toddler, so Ava would drift off to the Land of Nod. (Oh, boy, do I remember those car rides from my own sleep-resistant son’s early days.)

As Anna tooled around her neighborhood she saw trees laden with luscious lemons ready to drop and rot. Where others saw potentially fallen fruit, Anna saw good food needing a way to get to the hungry.

So she worked up the courage to knock on strangers’ doors to ask homeowners if she could collect their excess fruit for local food pantries. And she left fliers letting her neighbors know that she’d noticed their bounty and wondered if they’d be willing to share their surplus by leaving a bag or two for food bank donations, or allow her to pick their extra produce. The response? Overwhelmingly positive. People have happily donated lemons, as well as oranges, apricots, plums, peaches, tomatoes, beans, and zucchini.

Anna’s on a mission to spread the word that many food banks gladly take fresh produce. “Many people don’t know where their local food pantry is located and don’t realize that food banks will gladly take fresh produce,” says Anna. A lot of people, she points out, incorrectly assume that only canned goods or government surplus food is acceptable in such places. Not so.  (Check out a revealing New York Times Magazine article for the back story on why food banks are now accepting more fruit and veg in the recent Food Issue.)

To learn more about The Lemon Lady, visit her blog, where she champions the work of food banks and farmers, shares the joy of growing food with her daughter, and encourages others to follow her example in their own communities.

Check out one of her favorite baking recipes: lemon bars, of course.

And if you have an idea for a more fitting moniker for this food advocate, please share it below.

Images courtesy of The Lemon Lady blog.

Advertisements

Dig It: Growing Greens, Creating Community, and Feeding Families

July 3, 2009

Chris Geiger comes from a long line of gardeners. He grew up eating out of the family garden in Ohio and was eager to replicate the experience for his own daughter. But his backyard in Oakland, California is small and shaded. What to do? The resourceful dad simply sent out a request for land in exchange for labor on a neighborhood list-serve in time to till the soil this past spring.

He got lots of offers (he says he spied on neighbors’ yards via Google Earth) but he opted for the first, from homeowner Emily Bezar, who had location, location, location on her side. Emily’s rear yard is big, gets loads of sun, and she lives around the corner from Chris, his wife Madeleine, and their daughter Gwendolyn. A perfect match.

digit.growgreens.chris&emily

Chris and Emily are delighted with how their backyard experiment turned out. The plot has produced chard, beans, tomatoes, basil, squash, lettuces, and cucumbers.  “It was great to find Chris, who offered skills and expertise I didn’t have,” says Emily, who lives with her son Noah.  “And it’s wonderful to share the bounty with another family. It’s so satisfying to watch a garden grow rapidly before your very eyes. And Chris has an aesthetic sensibility; I love the splashes of color among the greens. I don’t know why more people don’t do this. It’s a wonderful way to cultivate food and community.”

Such partnerships are sprouting elsewhere. Sunset magazine reports this month on urbangardenshare.org, the brainchild of Amy Pennington, who runs an edible garden business in Washington state, and designer Gannon Curran. The site connects Seattle homeowners who have green space with keen gardeners who have none. Chime in if you know of similar efforts in other places.

This is the first in a series of posts on innovative ways folks grow greens and forage for food in the urban jungle. Check back for more profiles, ideas, and resources in future posts.

digit.chris&emily.gardenPhotos: Sarah Henry


A Shout Out for The Garden

May 2, 2009

Go see this award-winning documentary about a highly-politicized patch of green and the community who cultivated it in South Central Los Angeles.  The saga of this urban garden and its people screens this week at the Elmwood theatre in Berkeley and the Lumiere in San Francisco.

home_image1

It’s gritty, complex, full of shady backroom deals, greed, and, being L.A., the odd celebrity or two. Mostly, though, it’s the story of some 350 working class Latino families trying to survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment. Check out those towering banana plants. Marvel at that healthy cactus. Look at those rows of colorful corn. So much abundance in a previously blighted 14-acre plot.  The South Central Farmers fought the good fight — and they’re still at it — for the basic human need to grow food.

Bring the kids (ages 10 and up). Tell your friends. Don’t just take my word for it: Read what Kenneth Turan at the L.A. Times has to say about the film. View the trailer.

It’s got conflict. It’s got drama. It’s got poor versus rich. It will make you want to go home and do as Tezo, one of the main character’s in the film suggests at a post-screening Q&A, “tear down your fences, rip up your lawns, grow your own food, and build community.” That’s a sentiment I can totally dig.