Thursday, July 17, 2014

Feeding Norristown From Within

The 4th major section in the Temple U. Food Assessment of Norristown dealt with "Urban Agriculture," defined as "the practice of cultivating, processing, distributing, and disposing of food in a high-density area." It further broke down the subject into these areas: Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), community gardens, edible landscaping, urban farms, chicken coops, and farmers' markets. After re-reading it yesterday, I decided I can't cover it all in one blog, or possibly not even 2. I'll continue the topic next week. But I'll start with everyone who raises food in Norristown.

A Community Garden is where plots of land are provided at no cost to residents in an open location. The Norristown Community Gardens are in the State Hospital grounds. The advantage for gardeners is that you get more space (or, at least, more sunny space) than you might have at home, plus a chance to glean advice from the more experienced gardeners with plots near you. The downside is, you can't just go out to your backyard to water your garden or weed or pick tomatoes whenever its convenient. You have to make time to go work the garden every day, and lug your tools with you. Still, it's a great way to grow some produce for your family or, possibly, for local food pantries. The West End Association administers the site. New gardeners are welcome, on a first-come, first-served basis. If you might be interested for next year, check out their website. They have an open group on Facebook, too, and I recommend it for anyone with a veggie garden. Great place to get questions answered. You have to be signed onto Facebook to access it.

The Greater Norristown Police Athletic League has an impressive food garden that wraps around their building on Harding Boulevard. It's managed and prepared by NAHS and Penn Christian Academy students and the GNPAL director, Kenneth Fennal. In their own words: "In this garden, fruits, herbs and vegetables are regularly grown and harvested. When this is done, they are donated to the Family House Women's Shelter and the Salvation Army of Norristown. This way, the produce is managed, harvested and donated by a Norristown source, by NAHS to two Norristown beneficiaries..." In addition, GNPAL along with the Food Trust, offers a 5-6 week cooking class for adults and families, which teaches how to cook and prepare healthy, nutritious meals. They've won the PHS Community Greening Award and this year took 2nd prize for a Public Garden in the Norristown Garden Club contest.

In my opinion, the GNPAL garden is one of the most exciting urban agriculture projects in town. It involves students, so it's an educational project, it feeds those in need, and if you haven't seen it--it's a first class garden. I hadn't known about the cooking classes before this week. That's the icing on the cake. Other community or organizational garden projects in Norristown should take lessons from these folks.

Now, I know that most seasons I grow more vegetables in my garden than I can consume. You people who grow zucchini know what I'm talking about. And tomatoes all seem to get ripe at once. I give some to neighbors, and I puree and freeze some, but I'd love to be able to share them with people in need. I saw where The Patrician Society at Green and Chestnut had gotten donations from a produce stand last week and I got to wondering if our food banks would take donations of surplus produce from individuals, too.

Bringing home cucumbers from The Patrician Society
So, I asked The Patrician Society what they thought. The answer was yes, they'd love donations, with the understanding that they have no refrigeration, so they need the produce delivered on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 9 am and 1 pm (when they open for business). Also, anything perishable that's not given away by the time they close at 3 pm will be discarded. Still, if your tomatoes or zucchini are going to rot on the vine anyway, you might as well donate them to help feed the 30 to 80 families who come to The Patrician Society each week. If their hours aren't good for you, call around to the other food cupboards in Norristown. Here's the list from CADCOM:

If you do decide to donate produce to The Patrician Society, they have a receiving dock on their building (703 Green Street). Go into the parking lot and pull up to the fire escape where the dock is located. Ring the back doorbell to let them know you’re there and they'll come off-load your donation.

Seems to me that getting gardeners together with food pantries, or getting them together directly with families living below the poverty line, maybe through our churches, could only do good for Norristown as a whole.

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