This year's sunny fall weather has been a boon to the Hunger Coalition's Hope Garden, planted last year on the site of the old Blaine County Jail in Hailey.
The Hope Garden, with its immaculately tended rows of artichokes, tomatoes, squash, five kinds of melons and many other vegetables, is a flagship labor-of-love project for an organization aimed at taking care of the basics in the community.
The Hope Garden also provides a hands-on educational opportunity for many children in the valley. Educational garden tours were attended by 300 Blaine County students and educators in September.
A late frost has allowed for a bountiful harvest of summer vegetables. As of last week, about 1,100 pounds of a wide variety of produce had been harvested at the garden. Fall crops will continue to be gathered for weeks to come. Many will be stored in an ersatz root cellar at the Hunger Coalition warehouse in Bellevue.
Four local grocery stores help supply the nonprofit Hunger Coalition with food year-round, helping 1,100 children and adults, or nearly 450 Blaine County families, get through the recession without going hungry. About 45 percent of Hunger Coalition clients are children under the age of 18.
Many of the Hunger Coalition's 150 year-round volunteers dig in the dirt at the Hope Garden. Hunger Coalition Education Manager Hallie Reikowsky is the only paid Hope Garden employee. She organizes garden tours
"It's a great place to volunteer if you'd like to learn more about gardening, meet new folks, or work on a meaningful project with your family," Reikowsky said.
Many of the Hunger Coalition's mobile food bank clients volunteer time at the Hope Garden. Once harvested, the produce is taken to the Hunger Coalition warehouse in Bellevue where it gets loaded onto the mobile food bank van and distributed among local families.
In the interest of nutrition education, some of the food gets cooked up into simple tasty recipes that are distributed as samples at the mobile food bank drop-off points.
Last week Reikowsky and some volunteers made fava bean hummus and served it on pita bread, sending some mobile food bank clients away with nutrition fact sheets and recipes.
The Hope Garden has been a community-supported project from the start, gathering planting materials from numerous businesses and agencies.
Many of the seeds and plant starts have come from generous donors, including Willow Creek Nursery in Fairfield, Clearwater Nursery, Wood River Organics and Webb Landscaping.
Total fresh perishable donations distributed by the Hunger Coalition so far this year, including Hope Garden produce, amount to about 52,000 pounds. This produce contributes to the 3,900 pounds of food distributed weekly at three or four mobile food bank drop-off sites.
"As of Aug. 31 this year, the Hunger Coalition had distributed nearly 125,000 pounds of fresh and nonperishable foods," Reikowsky said. "This equals more than 96,000 meals."
The success of the Hunger Coalition has not gone unnoticed.
The Wood River Women's Charitable Foundation has helped with funding for the mobile food bank program. In addition, the Hunger Coalition was recently awarded a first-time grant from the WalMart Foundation, also in support of the mobile food bank program.
The local Deer Creek Fund recently contributed to the Hunger Coalition its largest gift to date, in direct support of the Hope Garden.
Now that summer is coming to en end, the Hope Garden will produce a bounty of fall crops.
In partnership with Idaho's Bounty and the Idaho Food Bank Fund, the Hunger Coalition will use a large, refrigerated walk-in shed for root-cellar-style food storage.
"This will allow us to store heartier crops like turnips, carrots, beets, cabbages, potatoes and garlic, and distribute them well into the cold season," Reikowsky said.
In addition to supplying its mobile food bank program, the Hunger Coalition also distributes food to needy children through its backpack program at local schools and its summer meal program. For more information about the Blaine County Hunger Coalition, go to www.thehungercoalition.org.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope Garden produce:
Globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, banana melon, basil, green, yellow wax, burgundy and scarlet runner beans, fava beans, four varieties of beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green and purple cabbage, cantaloupe, four varieties of carrots, chamomile, Swiss chard, chives, cilantro, three varieties of cucumber, two varieties of eggplant and two of garlic, seven varieties of hot peppers, kale, green and purple kohlrabi, many lettuces, red okra, onions, oregano, parsley, peas, pie pumpkins, potatoes, four varieties of radishes, three varieties of raspberries, sage, spinach, eight varieties of summer squash, three varieties of winter squash, strawberries, thyme, tomatillos, seven varieties of tomatoes, globe turnips and two varieties of watermelon.