Growing Home Gardens
By Kim Jordan
Photos courtesy of Nationalities Service Center
PHILADELPHIA–Every Monday morning Adam Forbes travels to The FruitGuys’ Philadelphia warehouse to load his pick-up truck. Apples? Check. Bananas? Check. Citrus? Pears? Check. Adam brings the fruit, and any other produce that wasn’t used in customers’ crates that week, back to the Growing Home Gardens, an urban farm project and food assistance program run by the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), a Philadelphia-based nonprofit group founded in 1921 to aid recent immigrants and refugees in the Philadelphia area.
When I visited in November 2011, a group of volunteer translators helped unload the fruit, each taking charge of a particular commodity, to make sure guests received a variety of produce to bring home to their families. Many refugees are newly arrived from Nepal, Bhutan, and Burma. Most weeks between 75-100 people will line up and each person leaves with 20-25 pieces of fruit. “The fruit and vegetable donations that The FruitGuys provides have played an incredible role in the health and nutrition of our refugee families in South Philly,” says Adam, the NSC Community Garden Manager. “Over 75 families line up every Monday to eagerly await the astounding array of fresh produce. Without this regular support many of our families do not have any access to fruit. The weekly donation not only provides much needed produce – but also brings together the community and provides us with a time to organize other community events addressing health, nutrition, and safety. This direct service would be impossible without the kindness and generosity of The FruitGuys.”
After getting their bags of produce, a few people went to the garden to pick fresh cilantro, the last of Fall’s bounty, to garnish their meals; others headed immediately to the community center around the corner for that morning’s English as a Second Language (ESL) class.
The community garden allows refugees to grow vegetables used in their traditional home cooking, such as collard greens, kale, eggplant, Thai basil, bitter melon, cilantro, and cucumbers. Adam says families are being introduced to new fruit through the FruitGuys donations. “We are still teaching families about kiwis, but a lot tried them the first week and are now happy for them.”
I first found out about NSC and its community garden from an appeal for produce posted by Adam on the Philadelphia Urban Farm Network listserv. I thought the community garden was a great fit – not only to grow healthy produce, but to create a welcoming community space for a vulnerable population. Deliveries began in August and each week The FruitGuys gives about 600 pounds of fruit and produce. In addition to providing food, Growing Home provides a gathering space for the community and helps them adjust to a new way of life. “I cannot tell you how grateful the recent refugees are,” says Adam. “Their faces light up when they see the fruit unloaded. Clients constantly ask where it all comes from and want to [say] a thousand ‘thank you’s—ek lakh danyabad—in Nepali.”
Besides the weekly donations by The FruitGuys, NSC also encourages its families to attend the Fresh for All free farmers’ markets run by Philabundance, another FruitGuys Good Works partner in the Philadelphia area. NSC has cobbled together this gleaning network to make sure these families don’t go hungry while they wait for identity cards to be issued or enrollment in government benefits programs.
These donations are part of The FruitGuys GoodWorks Program, a core part of our business that gives back to local communities and small farms near each of our regional hubs (San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia). Many additional charities receive donations through our Donate-A-Crate program, where customers can donate a fruit box or forward theirs instead of putting it on hold for the holidays.
Kim Jordan is The FruitGuys Eastern Regional Manager. She lives in Philadelphia.