Radishes, string beans, peppers, and rosy-tinged okra have been in good supply at Vickery Meadow Food Pantry (VMFP) thanks to some hard-working gardeners at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. During September, the Jill Stone Community Garden at the synagogue about 1,350 pounds of organic produce to VMFP.
This fresh bounty was in no small part due to the efforts of Deidra Cizon who volunteers at the pantry and the garden. “We root for dragonflies, and we’re crazy for ladybugs,” Cizon said and added that the garden also uses all-organic seeds.
“Starting from seed is so much less expensive [than using already growing seedlings].”
In order to attract beneficial bugs, the garden does not just grow vegetables and fruits. It contains flowering plants like milkweed, which the butterflies adore, as well as zinnias, marigolds, and other beauties that bring bees and winged creatures to spread the pollen around.
Cizon explained that when the garden first started, people would adopt a bed. Now that it is about seven years old, the garden is a partnership with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service and the Dallas County Master Gardeners. Cizon said that several master gardeners work in the garden and donate their time.
“When we became a community, the garden flourished,” she said.
Twice a week, volunteers come together under the direction of Kay McInnis, who refers to herself as the lead “wrangler.” She is also the brain trust, deciding which raised cedar beds will house the different varieties of vegetables and plants. The number of beds they have has more than doubled since they added 18 beds in a sunnier location not far from the original 17 beds. A generous donation from the family of Harold and Ruth Kleinman enabled this expansion.
The volunteer force also built the drip irrigation that provides water to the beds. McInnis said they ordered the brown drip PVC pipe online and used hairdryers to “solder” the pipes together. Temple Emanu-El supplies the necessary water, without which the plants could not survive and thrive. Water is the most expensive element according to Cizon.
The garden has other bounties besides the radishes, okra, and string beans. It contains garlic; fragrant herbs like sage and Thai basil (with its petite lavender flowers); blackberries; loofahs; and potato vine and bitter melons, which are enjoyed by immigrants from South Asia.
When they dry, the loofahs are made into the familiar bathtime scrubber by the children’s class at the synagogue. However, fresh loofah, which looks like an overgrown zucchini, can be cooked and eaten just like the squash.
The garden also boasts a greenhouse and a large compost bin. On the day that I visited, coffee grounds from morning activities at the synagogue were being forked into the bin. There are also two attractive new sheds, constructed in part to store and cool the produce as it’s harvested. These provide a growing surface for the newly installed blackberry bushes.
Very little of what is grown here is wasted. Vegetables and produce not fit for humans to eat are fodder for the chickens that belong to the children’s preschool.
Part of the mission of the garden is education. The children from the preschool spend time tending and learning about the garden. The Anne Frank Elementary School in the Dallas Independent School District also gets to experience and learn about horticulture and how food comes from the soil through efforts of garden volunteers, Cizon said.
She pointed out two plots that are tended by clients of the food pantry who are allowed to do whatever they please with what grows in their beds.
Because this tillage adds fresh, organic vegetables, herbs, and fruit to the dry staples of the food pantry, this mitzvah of the Temple Emanu-El gardeners improves the nutrition quality of life for clients experiencing low food security. The volunteers themselves benefit in many ways. They learn soil conditioning and organic growing tips; get some physical activity; soak up vitamin D from the sun; and of course, enjoy the camaraderie of the effort.
Not to be overlooked is the large contribution this good work makes to the interfaith coalition that includes Jewish Family Services, Catholic Charities of Dallas, and NorthPark Presbyterian Church. In partnership with North Texas Food Bank, these organizations help to keep the pantry shelves stocked with goods and the doors open three days each week to help hungry clients find nourishment.
Copyright © 2019 Jani Hall Leuschel