Staff members and volunteers with Manna Soup Kitchen garden are growing more produce so more people can feast on its fruits.
The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado manages the garden that was expanded during the last year-and-half from a small labyrinth garden to more than half an acre of vegetables and a small orchard, said Brooke Frazer, the garden coordinator.
“Three years ago it was nothing like this,” Frazer said.
Community volunteers and soup kitchen clients work the garden, which is expected to produce 1,000 pounds of food this season for Manna. Also, the garden will help supply a new farm stand that will offer free food, especially salad greens.
“We focus on kale and nutrient-dense greens as an easy way to get a lot of micro nutrients into people’s diets,” Frazer said.
About 15 soup kitchen clients work in the garden this summer, said Jason Cloudt, the volunteer coordinator and garden manager.
Watering, weeding and landscaping are some of the ways Manna clients earn the tokens required for any services beyond a meal.
“It’s empowering for folks to grow a plant,” said Sandhya Tillotson, executive director of the garden project.
This year’s expansion was funded in part by a $23,000 city block grant that paid for new raised beds, a new hoop house to extend the garden’s growing season and for an internship program available to students served by La Plata Youth Services, she said.
La Plata Youth Services serves teens who have committed a criminal offense and could otherwise enter the juvenile justice system.
Six teenagers will help run a new farm stand that will be open every Wednesday for food-insecure people. Those who eat at Manna and who may use the farm stand are not necessarily homeless, but they may struggle to afford groceries.
The idea evolved from an effort to provide fresh produce to those in need during the September commodities distribution at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.
It led Tillotson to ask “Why is this only happening one time through the year?”
While produce is sometimes available at the commodities distribution during other months, it is limited, Frazer said.
So, instead of providing boxes of food to families that sign up ahead of time, as garden staffers have in the past, produce will be available at the stand. Staff members would like to reach more working families by keeping the stand open until 6 p.m., Frazer said.
The interns will earn stipends as they harvest produce, arrange it for customers, and educate people on how to use the vegetables. It is also therapeutic work.
“I think being outside and in the sunshine is really soothing,” said Tina Ellliot, who is volunteering with the teens and works professionally as a crisis therapist.
Volunteer Kendall Smith sees the garden as an ideal place to teach life lessons around caring for oneself and personal growth, as the students care for plants.
“There is endless potential for metaphor in the garden,” said Smith, also a professional therapist.
Students have to submit applications and go through interviews to be considered for a position, said Katy Pepinsky, executive director of La Plata Youth Services.
“This is a really exciting opportunity for students that we work with,” she said.
She expects students will help shape the farm stand and gain entrepreneurial skills.
“It really gets to be the vision of the students,” she said.