Feeding the community with Grace

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By Paul Viau | Jul 09, 2014
Photo by: Paul Viau FRESH FROM THE GARDEN — Every Saturday morning, Grace Episcopal Church provides food pantry clients with a free and bountiful produce market.

My wife and I participated in the 2014 Haywood County Master Gardeners garden tour. This was our fourth, and as always we were treated to an incredible variety of beautiful homes and creative landscaping. It was a feast for the eyes, but it was also a real eye opener, as we witnessed the wonderful resurgence in back-to-basic community gardening.

There were two wonderful examples of bountiful vegetable gardens on the tour this year — the “teaching” garden at Hazelwood Elementary School and the “community outreach” Grace Episcopal Church in the Mountains pantry garden, which not-so-coincidentally began as a children’s learning garden in 2011.

As the children lost interest, Grace Church volunteers took over and revitalized the 500 square-foot raised-bed vegetable garden to supplement the church’s well- established food pantry program.

The Grace Church Food Pantry has been in continuous operation for nearly 30 years. Classed as an emergency food pantry, the operation is a partner agency with the Manna Food Bank, and all clients who receive food assistance must be local residents registered with the agency.

The Grace Church Food Pantry currently serves more than 300 Haywood County families and is open six days a week.

I am aware of the Grace Church Food Pantry, as my brother, Rob Viau, and sister-in-law, Pam, volunteer their time to this much-needed mission of their church. God bless them. Sometimes that interferes with our many beer-sharing activities, but I know it is time well spent.

I also know how beneficial the Grace Church Pantry Garden and weekly produce market are, because I spent last Saturday morning — seeing for myself the need for food assistance in our depressed economy, watching the many volunteers prepare and present the cornucopia fresh fruits and vegetables and quite “literally” getting a taste of how important fresh food is to any food assistance program.

Every Saturday morning, volunteers from Grace Episcopal Church gather early at the Church Pantry to prepare and present the week’s fresh faire. It is a combination of fresh produce from the Manna Food Bank, donations from local farmers as well as Grace Church members plus the fresh-picked fruits and vegetables from the Pantry Garden, started by Master Gardener Mary Alice Lodico.

The Grace Church produce market opens at 10 a.m., but clients start arriving before 8 a.m., to get a number. It is “first come, first served,” so clients who arrive early get first pick of the produce — but there is always enough for everyone.

Around 9 a.m., anyone who wants to go down to the Pantry Garden can help with a harvest. The children really love picking their own produce.

So far this season, the organic, raised bed garden has yielded sugar snap peas, squash, lettuce, mustard greens and kale. The Saturday I was there, it was time to pick all of the lettuce before it succumbed to the heat.

Meanwhile, there is a steady flow of clients arriving, getting their numbers and perusing information on healthy eating provided by MountainWise — a local agency dedicated to healthy eating and active living.

Volunteers from Grace Church produce garden distribute healthy recipes featuring ingredients found in that days produce offerings, and (my favorite part) usually one of the volunteers prepares a tasty “sampling” to share/inspire clients to cook and eat healthy.

On the day I visited Grace Church produce market, Susan Williams made good use of the mobile kitchen provided by MountainWise to sauté a medley of onions, squash, garlic, kale and cherry tomatoes.

At 10 a.m., the holder of ticket #1, Linda Garland of Waynesville, proudly stepped forward and started her produce “shopping.” The other client’s orderly formed a line and joined in the harvest.

By 10:30 a.m., 78 clients had gone through the line and found fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement their diets. On the way out the #1 client for the day, Linda Garland, stopped me and said, “You know this market is a real blessing. What with the cuts in food stamps, this really helps out. God bless them for what they are doing.”

To sum things up, Grace Episcopal Church produce market has demonstrated to me just how close and caring our community is. The Grace Church community garden is expanding this fall — adding a pumpkin patch.

You should also know that the Grace Church produce market is happy to accept donations of fresh produce from local growers and gardeners. I plan to drop off several large baskets of lettuce this coming Saturday morning, and I ask you to join me.

Grace Episcopal Church is on the corner of N. Haywood and Miller Street. Donations may be dropped off at Grace Church Food Pantry, located behind the church with access via the Miller Street entrance. For information, call Grace Church at 456-6029.

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