Winter is usually a slow period for any landscape designer, so Sharon Shaw would use that extra time on her hands to volunteer at a soup kitchen in Lansdale.
The donated food items were what most people think of when it comes to stocking a food pantry: boxes or cans of shelf-stable food that, while inexpensive, were also filled with salt, calories and preservatives. It provides needed nutrition, but maybe not the healthiest of options.
Recognizing that the food pantries provide a valuable resource for families who may be struggling, Shaw thought communities could do more to provide better choices than SpaghettiOs or Ramen noodles.
“I’ve always grown a garden, so it really struck me how little fresh food comes through a food pantry,” said the Doylestown Township woman, who has been involved in community gardening projects in Solebury and Bethlehem.
Earlier this year, she approached Doylestown Mennonite Church to see if the congregation and church officials would be amenable to starting a garden on their property.
The church had ample land and had used a portion of it last year for a sunflower patch.
Church officials saw the idea as a way of embracing the ideals of what community is all about.
So in May, at the start of the summer growing season, the seeds of Sandy Ridge Community Garden were planted as well – literally and figuratively.
Lead Pastor Randy Heacock sees the garden as a good fit.
“We’re very happy to be able to use the space,” he said. “The goal is what we have is to be used for the community. So when she came asking, it was a perfect match.”
The 35-foot by 145-foot garden is planted with vegetables, herbs and flowers. Half of the harvest will be donated to local food banks and kitchens in the area, said Shaw, with the remainder going to the volunteers.
The group is working with the Bucks County Opportunity Council to coordinate efforts.
The plantings should be familiar to most people.
“We tried to stick with things that are popular and transportable,” Shaw said. Visitors will find tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, peppers, onions, squash, cucumbers and greens growing in the garden plot.
The group is chronicling the garden's progress on a Facebook page to keep the community updated on what is happening.This week, volunteers dropped off three grocery bags each of basil and bok choy and five bags of kale at New Britain Food Larder.
While kale might not be found on a lot of people’s dinner tables, Shaw said some members of the group have been tasked with finding recipes to accompany the fresh produce.
She envisions some of the cold crops still being harvested through September and maybe even into November.
Volunteers – at all levels of gardening experience – can put in as much time as they like. “If somebody wants to come for an hour, that’s wonderful; if somebody wants to stay for four, they’re welcome to,” Shaw said.
Want to help? There are three scheduled work days where people definitely will be there at the starting time: 8 a.m. Tuesdays, 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. Saturdays. Tools are there or you can bring your own.
And if you don’t have a green thumb at all, Shaw said you could still help out with other jobs, such as in clerical or distribution positions.
The people who donate their time to the project is what makes Sandy Ridge Community Garden successful, she emphasized.
“The group of volunteers that have come together here in Doylestown really believe in what we’re doing and have made a personal commitment to it,” Shaw said. “That says a lot for the community of Doylestown and what a generous spirit it has.”
Doylestown Mennonite’s pastor agreed.
“It’s been a very positive opportunity for people to come together and get to know each other and work together – and work for a good cause,” said Heacock.
If you’re interested in learning more about Sandy Ridge Community Garden, the group is hosting a potluck dinner at 6 p.m. July 13 at the church. Bring a dish to share; plates and utensils will be provided.
Shaw also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.