With America’s unemployment rate high, the county’s food demand has soared 52% at some pantries this past year. Despite the fact Chester County is the wealthiest county in the state.
Now in its first year, Food for All has already been called a program that should be nationwide -- “imitated in every city in America” -- by public radio’s nationally syndicated You Bet Your Garden host Mike McGrath. The program’s raised vegetable beds can be found growing all over: at Vanguard in Malvern, Royersford Baptist Church, Immaculata College and the Phoenixville Senior Center, just to name a few. Throughout the abundant summer growing season, an organic bounty of tomatoes, zucchini, beans, squash and more, carefully tended by kids, staff and volunteers, will be sent directly to county food pantries – no preservatives required.
The goal, explains Triskeles -- a community-based organization devoted to sustainable agriculture and youth services -- is to impact the amount of fresh food available for needy residents, to help them understand how to sustain their requirements in the future, and to boost health and combat obesity. Many experts believe obesity, partly caused by poor quality food, is the single biggest health challenge facing America today.
Program Director Mark Birdsall says Food for All – created at the request of the Chester County Food Bank – currently involves 10 partner sites, nearly 100 gardening beds, and over 200 “in the dirt” workers. As word spreads, interest in securing a spot in next year’s expanded program continues to ripen along with the crisp, colorful vegetables.
Says Birdsall, “Triskeles is helping people grow, sustain and cook some of the most vitamin-rich foods on the planet. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what we can do.” To help other regions follow suit, Triskeles is now creating a Food for All manual to share with interested communities across the country.
The process of getting the vegetables up and sprouting begins with extensive Triskeles oversight. Food for All designs and installs each raised vegetable bed, provides seeds and plants, trains workers, and monitors progress. Each site agrees to contribute at least half of its harvest to county food pantries. The rest may be consumed by the partner organization’
It’s estimated 1000 lbs. of delicious, farm-to-table varieties for salads, stews, soups and snacks will be produced this first year.
In a radio interview with Birdsall, Commentator McGrath said, “I love the food being so close to the people,” noting the art of growing food has “long been forgotten in our cities.” That’s one of the main aspects of the venture; it turns wasted land into daily abundance.
Birdsall says the program is unique because most food banks simply give people food, which can be an endless process. Instead, Triskeles and the Chester County Food Bank teach chronically hungry residents how to grow food for future sustainability. Food for All also creates a regular form of physical exercise, forges strong community bonds, and sets the stage for healthier holistic living.
Adds Birdsall, “It’s a matter of educating and empowering.”
Hoping the vegetables will be used to the fullest extent, Triskeles has also organized a group of local food bank and free clinic recipients to turn fresh fare into tasty meals with the help of holistic family physician Dr. Ana Negron.
Food for All is the latest distinctive community venture for Triskeles, which has operated a companion Food for Thought program for underserved county children for nearly ten years, helping kids grow, cook and eat healthy foods. The organization also mentors kids in a variety of other Pennsylvania and New York educational programs.
With Food for Thought now firmly up and running, Triskeles, more than ever, is able to build on its original 2002 mission to bring good quality sustainable food to people in need. In explaining this goal, Birdsall quotes Ann Wigmore, a modern natural food pioneer, who stated, “The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.” Triskeles hopes Chester County, which many consider to be an organic haven, can help deliver this critical message in a positive, practical, sustainable, and even fun and exciting way.
To learn more about Food for All, to visit the community beds, or to join the expanding program, visit Food for All at triskelesprograms.org or contact Mark Birdsall to experience the vegetables in their fullest summer bloom.