Tucked away on the Ohio River, 10 miles from downtown Cincinnati, lies a quiet farm with long, beautiful rows of nutrient-dense kale, broccoli and lettuce, ripe strawberries and blueberries, bee hives and a magnificent orchard of nearly 400 fruit trees.
This idyllic and very productive farm doesn't earn a penny.
Welcome to the Giving Fields in Melbourne, Ky., a 10-acre farm operated by the Freestore Foodbank growing fresh produce for people who can’t afford to buy food.
"The people we feed are at high risk for diabetes and heart disease," says Jennifer Steele, director of community partnerships for the Freestore Foodbank. "We want to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer highly salted, highly sugared processed foods.”
Five years ago, less than 10 percent of the food the Freestore distributed was fresh; most was canned or boxed. Now, 40 percent of the Freestore's food is fresh or frozen, Steele says.
At the Giving Fields, farm manager Molly Jordan grows produce specifically for the Freestore’s food pantry and soup kitchen partners in Northern Kentucky.
"Our food goes to Northern Kentucky because the need is greater there," Steele says.
It’s easy to see why, since state laws make fresh food less available to Kentucky charities.
In Ohio, the Agricultural Clearance Program sets aside $17 million a year for Ohio farmers to sell surplus or blemished food to food banks. A similar initiative in Kentucky, still in its infancy, allocates only $600,000 for food banks to receive surplus produce annually.
At the same time, the number of Kentucky residents who depend on food donations is increasing. The Kentucky Association of Food Banks reported that 620,100 people now rely on food banks, an 84-percent increase from 2006.
The Giving Fields harvests fruits and vegetables for 117,000 meals in Northern Kentucky each season. Food pantries and soup kitchens receive the produce the day it is picked.
"The Kentucky Department of Agriculture also gives out recipe cards at food pantries so people can learn how to prepare the food we grow," Jordan says.
The farm relies on more than 1,000 volunteers — civic organizations, corporate teams, church groups and others — who work there each year. Jordan alternates rows of crops with wide strips of grass so volunteers can move easily throughout the fields. She also cultivates plants in tall wooden beds so people with limited mobility and senior citizens can weed and harvest, too.
At 10 acres, the Giving Fields is one of the largest food bank farms in the country, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of U.S. food banks.
The Freestore funds operational costs for the farm, collaborating with Doug and Sheila Bray of Wilder, who own the land, and the UK Cooperative Extension Office. The Giving Fields is now in its fourth growing season.
To volunteer at the Giving Fields, call the Freestore Foodbank at 513-482-7557 or email Tawanda Rollins at [email protected]
ON THE CITY ROOTS CALENDAR
June 7: Gardening for Pollinators Workshop
Honeybees, which are crucial to the production of local fruits and vegetables, are vanishing. Greenacres offers a workshop to learn how to attract butterflies, bumblebees, honeybees and other pollinators to your yard from 10 a.m. to noon at Greenacres Old Church, 8680 Spooky Hollow Road. $15. green-acres.org.
June 9: Garden Basics Class
Pest control, plant disease, watering and water conservation and other seasonal topics will be reviewed in this class offered by horticulturist Bennett Dowling at the Civic Garden Center from 6-8 p.m., 2715 Reading Road. $10; free to Civic Garden Center volunteers. civicgardencenter.org.
June 17: Foraged Foods Dinner
As part of its farm-to-table dinner series, Carriage House Farm features wild and foraged foods from the farm collected by botanist Abby Artemisia and prepared by Nuvo on Greenup. Artemisia will be on hand to talk about local foraging. Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. at Carriage House Farm, 10251 Miami View Road in North Bend; $125 for dinner, drinks, tax and tip. Tickets available at nuvoatgreenup.com.
June 28: Medicinal and Edible Plant Workshop
Using plants for food and medicine connects us with our ancestors, say Wes and Diantha Duren of Marvin's Organic Gardens. Their workshop at the Civic Garden Center introduces useful plants to grow in home gardens and shows how to blend herbs to make tinctures and teas. From 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Civic Garden Center, 2715 Reading Road. $30; registration required by June 15. civicgardencenter.org.
CITY ROOTS is a recurring monthly blog at citybeat.com about local urban agriculture issues.