A woman holds two large zucchinis, standing next to a young girl.

Cultivating Communities Campaign brings in healthy harvest

Shirley Geiger holds up the two large zucchinis she found in the YMCA’s garden. Photo by Debby High, The Reporter.

By Bob Keeler

“Grow Fresh. Give Local.”

That’s the idea behind the Cultivating Communities Campaign, which is using gardens at schools, churches and other community organizations to help people in the Indian Valley and North Penn areas who might not otherwise get fresh, local produce.

“Our goal is to reach low income families and those that cannot get to the store,” said Gina Kirk, program coordinator.

Last year, the five gardens in the program harvested and distributed a total of 12,135 pounds of produce, 202 of which came from a garden at the Indian Valley Family YMCA in Harleysville. This year’s numbers are just beginning to come in, but with 14 gardens now participating, organizers are looking forward to a good year and hoping to add another 10 gardens for next year.

The Indian Valley Family YMCA is a branch of the North Penn YMCA.

Along with providing food for those in need, Betty Linko, North Penn YMCA chief operating officer, said the gardens help teach children in Y summer camps about farming and where food comes from.

“The kids understand how it grows, where it goes,” Linko said during a Summer Garden Party held Aug. 1 in the Indian Valley Y’s garden area.

The families receiving the food also get recipes and healthy eating tips, she said.

Shirley Swan-Geiger, teen camp counselor at the Indian Valley YMCA, said the garden was started by one of her daughters as a high school senior project and now is being added to each year.

“The kids run it,” Swan-Geiger said.

“They do all the work,” she said. “I just guide them. I give them pointers.”

“They come out every day,” Linko said. “They harvest, they weed, they take care of everything.”

In some cases, the food that is harvested goes to food pantries for distribution, but in other cases, such as at the Y, much of it goes to the same people already coming there, Kirk said.

“This is a great setup because the food goes right to the kids and the families,” she said.

A master gardener is assigned to each of the gardens to help provide advice, she said. Nutritionists also take part in the program.

Funded by a grant from North Penn Community Health Foundation, the Cultivating Communities Campaign is coordinated locally by the Health Promotion Council partnering with Penn State Cooperative Extension of Montgomery County, The Food Trust and Montgomery County Health Department.

Along with the Indian Valley Y, CCC garden partners or garden and food distribution partners within the Souderton Area School District this year include Lutheran Community at Telford, Vernfield Elementary School, Encore Experiences at Harleysville, Salford Hills Elementary School and Salford Mennonite Church. Food distribution partners include Keystone Opportunity Center.

For more information on the Cultivating Communities Campaign, contact the Health Promotion Council at www.hpcpa.org or 267-773-4372.

From Bob Keeler. (2012, August 2). Cultivating Communities Campaign brings in healthy harvest for Indian Valley, North Penn areas. The Reporter. Retrieved from:  http://www.thereporteronline.com/article/20120802/NEWS01/120809902/cultivating-communities-campaign-brings-in-healthy-harvest-for-indian-valley-north-penn-areas&pager=full_story