Jose Garcia and DJ Kosloski were talking about the vegetables they’ve tried this summer.
Garcia talked about kohlrabi, the sturdy ball that looks like a spaceship and tastes like a turnip.
“I still haven’t tried that,” Kosloski said.
Garcia said he’s had zucchini and a variety of beans.
Kosloski warns that if you aren’t careful about when you pick one, a zucchini will get huge and he holds up his hands to show just how big.
What’s remarkable about the conversation is that the two young men didn’t eat vegetables before this summer.
“I would never touch a vegetable before,” Garcia said.
They talked with a journalist next to a Seed to Feed garden behind Church Community Services. As part of the Men Alive job training program, they’re volunteers in the gardens. They also go to the Wakarusa Produce Auction to buy items for their stand in the parking lot at 907 Oakland Ave, Elkhart.
But the big news this summer is how Seed to Feed continues to grow.
It started as an idea in 2011 as some people started talking about how to get fresh food into the food pantries where processed food is more prevalent.
In 2012, corn and soybeans were planted and harvested to raise money. Two gardens generated produce despite a drought.
In 2013, six gardens produced 36,717 pounds of fresh food and donations of meat and vegetables brought the total to 149,947 pounds, according to co-coordinator Katie Jantzen.
This year, a dozen gardens are full of plants and volunteers, but not weeds. One of the gardens behind CCS has a sign urging people to pick fresh food and pull a few weeds as payment. Other gardens are harvested weekly by volunteers and the food is brought to CCS for distribution by the Food Bank of Elkhart County.
The food bank, which started in 2013, distributes food to the CCS pantry, but also nearly 50 others around Elkhart County. It gets big donations from companies and stores. Seed to Feed provides the fresh food mostly grown without pesticides or herbicides.
Collard greens are popular. So are green beans, cantaloupe and tomatoes, though the mild summer means that green tomatoes are mostly what’s been harvested so far, Jantzen said. Altogether, 34 different things are planted in the gardens.
These gardens, and the people giving their time to plant, weed and harvest, are changing how people eat in Elkhart County.
There are those like Garcia and Kosloski who are getting their first taste of healthy vegetables. Others are thrilled to have access to the fresh food they struggled to afford. “People have literally cried when they see the produce we have,” Jantzen said.
What was an idea is now a bounty. Last week, a free farmers market allowed agencies to come get produce for their food pantries. Thirteen agencies took 6,165 pounds of peppers, squash and other vegetables.
As of last week, the gardens have produced 15,365 pounds of food this summer and Seed to Feed has provided 45,613 of meat or produce that was grown, donated or purchased, Jantzen said.
What may be most amazing is that more than 11,000 volunteer hours have helped provide all this since Seed to Feed started.
OK, you’re saying, that’s a lot of time and food. But so what?
Elkhart County isn’t a perfect picture of health or healthy eating. Even in an economy that’s rebounding, workers are coming to food pantries to help feed the kids. When someone has three jobs and two kids, finding time to cook healthy food will often lose to just getting something prepared.
So the fresh produce helps people eat a bit healthier.
“I think it’s changed the way the community as a whole thinks about food,” Jantzen said.
She was part of that change, part of how a community rallied around an idea that is making a difference.
Co-coordinator Dave Hochstetler said the program’s growth happened in part because Jantzen was at Church Community Services. Her Mennonite Voluntary Service term ends this week and Natasha Weisenbeck will take over her position, or “step into her muddy shoes,” as a CCS blog post put it.
Others will help with the harvest. Kosloski said he can’t wait for ripe, red tomatoes. What Jantzen helped establish is something that will yield those for more than just one season.
Elkhart County continues to give to and support this program. Hochstetler hopes that farmers donate proceeds from an acre of their crops and recreational vehicle makers get involved. “Elkhart County’s got a big heart,” he said.
Because of Seed to Feed, its residents have healthier hearts too.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Jantzen shared two recipes that are favorites using the garden produce she loves.
Peanut Butter Kale
- 1 or 2 onions
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 can pineapple
- 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
- tobasco sauce, sriracha, or cayenne pepper to taste
- Saute garlic and onions until soft.
- Add pineapple and kale, cover frying pan and steam 5 minutes. Add peanut butter and stir.
- Add spices to taste. Serve over rice. (All ingredients can be adjusted to taste.)
Roasted Harvest Vegetables
- 8 cups of winter vegetables (can include any of the following: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, beets, winter squash, Brussels sprouts), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon dry or 3 tablespoons fresh herbs (can include rosemary, thyme, parsley, oregano)
- 1 onion (cut into 1-inch pieces)
- Toss vegetables, herbs, and oil together (keep onion separate).
- Spread in a single layer on greased baking pans. Roast in a preheated oven at 425 F until tender (30-45 minutes), stirring occasionally. (Add onions to pan after first 10 minutes.)
- Season with salt and pepper. Can serve with gravy, broth, or garlic sauce (roast a garlic bulb & mash into ¾ cups plain yogurt).