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Gardeners Donate Produce to Share

Gardening program aims to provide fresh food for food bank clients.

Hunter Basile, 3, holds vegetables that will be donated to Share.

Hunter Basile, 3, holds vegetables that will be donated to Share. Photo Contributed

— As the weather warms, local gardeners are heading back to their plots. Share, a local nonprofit, will be using some of what they produce to provide fresh food to their clients. Open since 1969, Share operates a weekly food bank out of the McLean Baptist Church, as well as clothing, furniture and other family assistance.

"We’re trying to increase the amount of fresh, nutritious food we can get to our clients," said Julie Mendoza, the program’s coordinator. "So much of what we give out is nonperishable items, so it’s nice to have something fresh in there. It’s amazing how much difference a little bit of basil can make in something like spaghetti."

The program is entering its third growing season. In 2010, Share asked the Fairfax County Park Authority, who host community garden plots in Lewinsville Park, if plots could be made available for them.

"We saw at the end of the previous season that a lot of people had left things in their plots, tomatoes on the vine dying, and we asked if they’d like to donate to us," Mendoza said. "In the first year, we brought in about 250 pounds of fruits, vegetables and herbs and we got about 600 pounds last year."

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Share of McLean will be receiving produce from plots like this to provide fresh food to their clients.

The program currently brings in about 50 to 80 pounds of produce per week.

Last year, a gardener donated their plot to share, meaning everything grown there would go to Share. Gardeners grow everything from tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash and have even started taking requests.

"Anyone can donate anything they have to spare, whether its one week or on a regular basis," Mendoza said.

John Rutherford donates what he doesn’t use to Share, and

"This year I’m dedicating a row in my plot to Share. I’ve seen watermelons on the top of the request list, so I’ll definitely grow that," he said.

Rutherford also donates peas, radishes and lettuce.

Jim Howland, who helped run the community plots in Reston for 10 years, provides gardening equipment and helps maintain documentation for growing tips and other information for gardeners. He said the gardeners themselves are enjoying participating in the program together.

"We all face challenges with growing, rabbits, deer, soil problems, bugs, so this brings people together, people who have a very diverse set of backgrounds and cultures, for a common goal," he said. "It’s nice to see people come together and debate nothing more serious than how their tomatoes are coming in."

Mendoza comes by once a week to pick up donated produce left at the Lewinsville Park plots. Boy Scout Troop 652 is currently constructing a few more raised beds, and Temple Rodef Shalom is adding a few beds as well.

Other volunteers are helping gather gardening information for those interested in growing and compiling recipes for things like swiss chard which clients might not know how to prepare.

"We’re hoping that we can get more participants, but also that this will give us opportunities to open up discussions about things like nutrition," Mendoza said.

More information on Share can be found at www.shareofmclean.org, and more information about the gardening program can be found at tinyurl.com/gardens-for-share.