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MontCo Farming Initiative Aims to Provide Fresh Food for Those in Need

Local farming leads to local families eating healthy.

Eating healthy can start with eating fresh. Fresh produce is ideal, but not every family can afford it. The Cultivating Communities Campaign (CCC) is bringing locally grown produce to families in need in Montgomery County.

The campaign seeks to bring together organizations and individuals whose goals are to grow healthy food for families in need starting with those in the North Penn, Wissahickon and Souderton communities.

The group held an orientation meeting Wednesday night in hopes of bringing in more organizations for the next growing season.

Currently, the campaign has five producers of food and two groups distributing food to the community. Encore Experiences at Harleysville, Indian Valley Family YMCA, Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life, Salford Hills Elementary School and Salford Mennonite Church all grow produce while the Keystone Opportunity Center and the PEAK Center distribute the foods to those in need, said Justine Falkowski, the campaign’s project coordinator.

The campaign began in March of this year and is a partnership between the Health Promotion Council, the Food Trust, Montgomery County Health Department and the Penn State Cooperative Extension. The campaign received grant funding from the North Penn Community Health Foundation to begin establishing or expanding gardens, said Courtney Grove, project manager of the campaign.

Each partner of the campaign has its own unique role in the process of growing and distributing the food.

The health department is on board to educate the families and individuals receiving the food, said Teri Wessel, a nutritionist from the health department. She said she will be putting together recipes to share and teach recipients how to store and prepare the produce. Wassel said she will also teach them about the vitamins in the food and their nutritional facts.

The Penn State Cooperative Extension Center in Montgomery County will be responsible for helping the organizations start and maintain their gardens, said Linda Antonacio-Hoade, educational outreach coordinator for the extension center.

Antonacio-Hoade said she visits the sites when groups express an interest in joining the campaign and evaluates the land. She said she sets them up with a master gardener from the extension center, who can help start the garden. They will decide what type of garden is best for that land and what types of food would be best suited for those conditions.

 The extension center can also help groups come up with unique ways to plant, Antonacio-Hoade said. She gave the example of the parking lot at the center where she is growing plants on hay bales.

“If you’re thinking you don’t have the space, it’s just not so,” Antonacio-Hoade said.

The North Penn Community Health Foundation wants to promote a healthier lifestyle for those who otherwise might not be able to afford it, said Russ Johnson, president and CEO of the foundation.

The health foundation conducted a study a few years ago that found 30 percent of students in North Penn, Wissahickon and Souderton are at risk for obesity, Johnson said.

Johnson said the statistics were shocking and they discovered the resources in the community weren’t available for poorer families to receive nutrient rich foods.

“It was just dreadful and so we said ‘we’ve got to get better,’” Johnson said.

The Food Trust, also a partner in the campaign, has a program in place already for individuals to help feed those in need, Falkowski said. On Mondays, starting in mid-July, the group will have drop-off points around the communities so anyone who has a garden and happens to have extra produce can drop that off and it will be taken to local pantries, Falkowski said.

So far, Cultivating Communities Campaign has harvested some produce, mostly lettuce and herbs, and expects more within the next weeks, Grove said.

The campaign hopes to have 24 sustainable gardens by the next year, Falkowski said.

“We want this to grow and we want this to be a big initiative in the community,” Falkowski said.

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