Jan. 26, 2010 09:53

Where did your tomato come from? Who grew that corn syrup that shows up on all of the nutrition labels? What, exactly, is some of this stuff? These are questions that so many people are asking. EarthShare Gardens is a local non-profit organization that is dedicated to enhancing the connection between people and their food. For some, this means just providing nutritious and home grown food to eat. For others, this connection is manifested in the form of their own plot in our community garden, where they till the soil, plant the seeds, mulch the rows and harvest the fruit. And, of course, pull the weeds.

EarthShare Gardens has been around since January 2002 and has thrived while using the processes of discussion and consensus-based decision making. The core group, composed primarily of members of the board of directors and its close affiliates, handles most of what goes on within the EarthShare Gardens organization — everything from fundraisers to class lessons about gardening or large volunteer days. Our farmer, whom we pay for part-time work but who puts in much more work than that, is a dedicated partner in crime. He has learned the ways of chemical-free growing, taught the board of directors about the beauty of old-school farming, and will always take the time to explain what he is doing (and why, if you are curious).

You may see our farm when you drive the stretch of Louisiana Avenue between Carmel Drive and Willow Street. We dug in our roots on Holy Rosary property, between the Family Dollar shopping center and Holy Family Apartments, across from the municipal golf course. Appropriately, the other half of the large property has mature pecan trees which already provide the neighborhood with local produce.

The anchor of our four acres is our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Garden. A CSA is an alternative to the classic structure of farmers growing and selling at a local grocery store or farmers market that is used by most small diverse vegetable farms. First, the farmers determine the growing capacity of their land — how much broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce can their acreage support? How many families can they feed? The next step is to find the families that they will feed.

When you sign up, each party is given a guarantee: They will receive fresh, healthy produce every single week, barring a catastrophe. The farmer is guaranteed that if that catastrophe occurs, she will not be staring devastation in the face.

A family signs up to receive produce every week during the season, pays for their season in advance, and vows to weather the ups and downs of the season with the farmer, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. When the rains come, drowning the fields, followed three months later by a healthy week of non-stop hard freeze, the CSA customers know what this means for their food. Since they paid in advance, the farmer is not facing devastation and bank liens, and since the responsibility is shared between all of the shareholders, the burden is not too much for any one person. EarthShare Gardens has a long waiting list for the CSA and unfortunately cannot accept any more people for our waiting list. We do, however, encourage area farmers to learn more about different CSA models to see if it might be right for them.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a population often left by the wayside when we talk about healthy, chemical-free produce. Our Donation Garden is an area dedicated solely to food donation for food banks and diners. This garden is 100-percent volunteer-run, with various organizations coming to till, plant, maintain, and harvest. We are seeking a good fit with a civic, school or church group to adopt a weekly volunteer routine for this garden. Let us know if you are interested in a one-time or an on-going basis.

But, what if you are a causal gardener — someone who helped in the garden at grandmother’s house, dabbled in growing food when the kids were small, or has a yard so full of other gardens there is no more space for the vegetable plants? No fear, we have space for you, too. Our Community Garden Plots are available to these people — you can use our sun, rain, compost and other growing tools (included in the small seasonal price of the plot) and you get to hang out with other gardeners, sharing tips, tools, and conversations.

We aim to support and promote all of our local farms, orchards, U-pick areas, and ranches. One of the latest ways we have employed to get the word out in Acadiana, and put our money where our mouth is, is through the Harvest Moon Dinner. The year 2009 marked the second year that EarthShare Gardens used this major fundraiser to support and promote our neighborhood farms by buying all of our produce and most of our ingredients from food producers here in Acadiana — pork, veggies, rice, you name it. This is something that so many people believe in — making food accessible for everyone, empowering people to grow their own food, preserving our agricultural heritage, engaging in healthy nutrition. But it takes a community to support it — it doesn’t just happen on its own. When we begin to build our culture around food — beyond the local gumbo flavors and into the local produce flavors — we can begin to realize just how good homegrown is, for your taste buds, your neighbors, and our environment.

To get involved, people can come out and volunteer on our First Saturday Gardening Days from 9 a.m. to noon, donate garden tools, do a small weekend project, schedule a group volunteer day for the donation garden, commit to bringing coffee grounds, leaves and grass clippings or produce for our compost piles, rent a plot in our community garden or just show up and share your smiling face. Contact us for more ideas on Facebook, earthsharegardens@gmail.com, or earthsharegardens@yahoogroups.com.


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