|Garden's harvest plentiful|
By CHRISTINA SMITH
DES MOINES, IA "REGISTER" STAFF WRITER
October 8, 2004
With the help of donors and more than 400 volunteers, the Garden of Eden project on Des Moines' south side has surpassed project leader's expectations. On Sunday, a celebration will be held to mark the garden's bountiful first-year harvest.
The project, sponsored by St. Anthony's church and school, Bidwell Riverside Center and the Creative Center for Young Children, yielded more than 1,200 pounds of fresh produce, which was donated throughout the summer to the Bidwell Riverside Center's food pantry.
"I think (the harvest) has gone great, considering all the firsts," garden coordinator and horticulturist Christina Punelli said. "I think we did a lot for the community. It made us feel good, especially when you see the people at Bidwell get excited for your tomatoes."
Tonia Pentico, director of Children's Arc at Bidwell, said the amount of food from the garden surprised everyone.
"When we started talking about it, I never dreamed we would have as much as we had," Pentico said. "I never thought we would have the impact that we did. We were able to serve so many more people."
Pentico said about 35 families are served by the Bidwell food pantry daily.
Pentico said she remembered picking about 49 pounds of fresh produce - which she thought could have fed 75 people - one day during the summer. The harvest from the garden allowed the pantry to serve more than just the usual foods.
"I think it meant that we could get fresh produce to the patrons, instead of just the canned goods they were getting," Pentico said.
Last spring, the three organizations started a community garden at Southwest First and Edison streets on land owned by St. Anthony's. Originally, the garden was to have one garden box, but because of the amount of donated plants, seven 4-by-12-foot boxes were planted and included an extension garden filled with peas, beans, carrots, onions, eggplant, squash, tomatoes and peppers.
Mary Said , Garden of Eden project coordinator, credited the success of the garden to donors and volunteers. The south-side Home Depot store donated more than 2,400 tomato and pepper plants. Knights of Columbus members built the group's flower boxes. The children of St. Anthony's planted the seeds and tended the garden at the school.
South-side resident Gloria Cano donated half an acre to the group after discovering how many plants it had received. The group planted 350 tomato plants in Cano's backyard located on Rose Avenue. The children and staff members of Bidwell watered and picked the produce at the project's extension garden on Rose Avenue weekly, receiving help from other residents throughout the city.
"The neat thing about our garden was the amount of people who helped out with it," Said said. "We thought we would start out with a small garden. We started out with four people, and none of us had gardened."
In the beginning, the group sought help from Teva Dawson, the community garden coordinator for the Des Moines parks department. Some volunteers took classes to learn more about gardening. Eventually, the group gained a master gardener, Lenora Astley.
The group eventually started an adopt-a-plant program, Said said, and all but 350 of the plants, eventually planted in the Rose Street garden, were adopted by members of St. Anthony and Maple Grove United Methodist churches.
The only adopt-a-plant program rule, Said said, was that everyone who adopted a plant had to donate the fresh produce to a food pantry.
Success of the gardening program has led the group to plan food and gardening classes in November for homeless people and anyone without garden space. Said said the classes will teach people how they can grow food even if they don't have a backyard, how to preserve food, how to create a nutritious meal with limited resources and the benefits of eating fresh produce.
As for next year's plans, Said hopes to expand to 14 garden boxes and acquire more donated land.