The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 16, 2013

Volunteers build raised-bed garden to help families in need with fresh produce

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Volunteers gathered at Loaves and Fishes NW Oklahoma Saturday to build raised beds for a new community garden, all part of an effort to promote gardening and provide more fresh produce for local families in need.

The volunteer effort was a collaboration of Loaves and Fishes, local Boy Scouts, Enid Rotary Club and Northwest Osteopathic Foundation.

Michael Hunter, a volunteer coordinator for the project, said the community garden concept was born of nutritional necessity in the community.

Hunter said Loaves and Fishes board director Gail Wynne was contacted last year by Dr. Laura Miller, D.O., emergency room medical director at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, because Miller was seeing an increase in malnutrition cases coming into the hospital.

Wynne, herself a master gardener, incorporated the concept of a community garden into the Loaves and Fishes plan before the pantry opened last October.

Hunter said the community garden project was made feasible when Enid Rotary Club provided a $4,000 grant to develop the garden project. Northwest Oklahoma Osteopathic Foundation followed with a grant for $5,000, to support the garden’s ongoing operations.

Hunter said the long-term goal for the project is not to just grow fresh produce, but to develop a community demonstration and teaching garden, where families in need can learn how to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables.

The project began to take shape when Makay Tobler, a local Boy Scout with Troop 17, heard the community garden project was being planned.

The garden project needed volunteers, and Tobler needed a large community-service project to complete his Eagle Scout requirements.

Tobler, now 17, said he has been involved in Scouting since he was 12 years old. He said he was drawn to Loaves and Fishes for his Eagle Scout project through previous volunteer work at the food pantry.

Tobler said he had volunteered at Loaves and Fishes both through Boy Scouts and with an Enid High School community-service group. When he heard about the raised-bed project, he said he knew it was a good project for his Eagle Scout work.

“I like this project,” Tobler said, “because it helps people who are struggling financially to be able to get the food and the nutrition they need.”

Tobler said he also liked the raised-bed project, because it will help people learn how to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables, and be able to provide for themselves.

Tobler assembled a crew of about 20 workers to help with his Eagle Scout project yesterday, including several of his teachers from EHS, friends, church members and fellow Scouts from Cimarron Council Troop 17.

Volunteers prepared the ground and constructed 10 raised beds. The raised beds will provide a location to grow seasonally appropriate crops year-round.

Organizing and leading the volunteer effort was the capstone effort in Tobler’s five years of Scouting. He said the Scouting experience has taught him valuable lifelong lessons.

“What I like about Scouting is that it teaches you to be prepared, how to organize things and how to be a leader,” he said. “It teaches you why you always need to be on the ball, and that you should always try your best.”

Dr. Jeremy Phelps, Troop 17 assistant Scout Master, said those values are common among the Scouts.

“We have a great group of kids,” Phelps said. “They all work very hard, and they like helping and doing for others. They’re always there to help each other out, so we’re able to get a lot done.”

Phelps said Troop 17 produced two Eagle Scouts last year, and this year the troop is on track to have four Scouts, including Tobler, complete their path to Eagle.

Previous Eagle Scout projects have included volunteer work for Enid Fire Department, painting fire hydrants; and a project to assemble relief bags for the Red Cross.

Phelps said the local Scouts’ service to the community “emphasizes all of the qualities that Scouting espouses.”

“The boys are phenomenal examples to follow,” Phelps said. “They’re a great example to me, and their example pushes me to serve more and help out more all the time.”

Carrie Willson, director at Loaves and Fishes, said the volunteer work organized by the Scouts yesterday is a good example of the kind of community support the food pantry has received since it opened.

“I think it’s great how much community support we’re getting, and how much it will benefit our organization,” Willson said.

She said the raised-bed project would not have been possible without the volunteers and donors.

“It took a lot of planning and organization on their part to put this together,” Willson said. “This is something we’ve really been looking forward to because it will help us get more involved in the community, and it takes an entire community to raise the fruits and vegetables needed, and to teach our kids how to raise their own fruits and vegetables.”

Roxanne Pollard, a board member for Loaves and Fishes, said the community garden will enable families in need to become more self-sufficient, and develop a more sustainable food pantry system.

“This opens the opportunity for us to teach our clients about gardening, about fresh fruits and vegetables, and about how important fresh produce is to their nutritional health,” Pollard said. “Then, the hope is, they will be able to teach those skills to their children, and pass what they’ve learned on to the next generation.”

Loaves and Fishes provides food to 500-600 families each month. Food is donated from individuals or Horn of Plenty, or is purchased through a contract with Walmart or through the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma — all funded by local donations.

Volunteers also are needed to help stock, organize and staff the pantry.

For more information on volunteering or donating to Loaves and Fishes, contact the pantry at 540-9830 or in person at 701 E. Maine.