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Growing for the greater good

News Source: The Midweek Wire

In its second year, the unique Hope of the Harvest yields produce for local food banks and potential for future efforts.

The name Hope of the Harvest refers not only to the garden, but also to the project’s boundless potential.

Founded last year, Hope of the Harvest is a collaborative effort where students from Delaware Valley College (DelVal) take the lead in growing fresh produce for local food banks. The college partnered with Philabundance, the region’s largest food bank and hunger relief organization, and The Bucks County Opportunity Council, which helps low-income people attain financial security. Together, they provide produce that may be of better quality than what the banks get now.

According to Lisa Hodaei, senior manager of food acquisition for Philadabundance, produce loses its nutritional value when it has to travel farther distances and be transferred along its route. So, while Hope of the Harvest provides only a fraction of the total produce used by local food banks, those contributions can be more healthful than food from other sources. “We’ve always looked outside the local community for produce in volume,” said Hodaei. “With this pilot program, we’re discovering that there is interest with local growers.”

For Zach Gihorski, the impact of this project reaches far beyond the Delaware Valley. “A big part of my personal perspective is just understanding how serious an issue hunger is for so many people,” he explained.

A recent graduate of DelVal, Gihorski was one of the founders of Hope of Harvest. His work here has inspired his decision to attend graduate school for a law degree so he can affect legislation concerning hunger in the United States. He said he had a realization while receiving an award in Washington, D.C.

“It’s easy for people in Washington to argue about numbers and money, but not the people — the moms and dads and brothers and sisters and boys and girls [affected by hunger].” he said. “Instead of arguing, have all the agricultural colleges with land grants from the government take an acre to both educate their students and donate the produce to the local food pantries.” The “pass-it-on” approach, as he called it, would have a “profound” impact on the communities around the colleges.

That idea of community involvement, which already exists in Hope of the Harvest, is something that people like Hodaei believe is just as significant as the food it generates.

“I think it’s really important as a culture to be more connected to where our food comes from,” she explained. “We move at such a fast pace, that we get disconnected from the process. To be able to touch the soil and spend a day out in the field provides a great ability for us to present in terms of attracting volunteers.”

She listed local residents who became involved with Hope of the Harvest, as well as volunteers through corporate retreat programs who built team-working skills while also “slowing down” for a day to became more connected to their community.

“The social service component is important,” she continued. “It ties back to the old notion of tithing, where a farmer would set aside a portion of the field for neighbors in need, and the Biblical concept of gleaning, where nothing gets left behind or goes unused.”

Thanks to the community and corporate involvement along with the multi-organizational collaboration, Hope of the Harvest is a growing service. Last year, the program worked from one acre of land to donate 14,000 pounds of produce to Philadabundance. This year, it encompasses nearly three acres and has so far yielded nearly 19,000 pounds for the organization.

And, says Gihorski, that’s just the start. He plans to transition out of his roles at the Harvest as he prepares for grad school and speaks highly of current student volunteers like Scott Smith and Kristen Hulsharp, who will be continue to grow the project.

“It’s always been a group effort and it will still be when I leave. It’s student-led and we have a wonderful group of freshmen and transfer students coming in,” said Gihorski. “Two years ago, a group of DelVal students came together and made an impact. Now it looks like it will roll out for awhile, thanks to the great people who have made something wonderful happen.”

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