Last week my kids were itching to get out of the house and I was trying to rack my brain for a fun activity we could do (and an added bonus if it was free). A story from The Giving Field (a community garden in Beaumont, TX) showed up in my Facebook newsfeed and I decided to give them a call to see if they happened to need any volunteers for that day. A lady named Sharon answered the phone and said she would be at the garden all day and if we wanted to stop by that would be great!
We had such a great time while we were there, and not only did I learn a lot of helpful organic gardening tips while we were working but I also learned about the Giving Field's impressive history! Sharon Begnaud is the volunteer coordinator and one of the co-founders of The Giving Field.
As we were pulling weeds in one of the garden beds last week, I asked Sharon how The Giving Field was formed and I was so impressed to learn about their history. Sharon said that for years she had been volunteering at the Soup Kitchen at St. Anne's Catholic Church and often noticed that the majority of the food served was heavily processed and they had very little fresh produce in their meals. She said that she and co-founder Mary Mahlie (both Master Gardeners) had heard that the church was looking for something to do with the property across the street and that triggered an idea to start a community garden where they could grow and donate nutritious, organic, and healthy food for local residents. Through a series of grants and local donors they were able to form The Giving Field. Their mission is to feed the hungry and they do so by having 52 beds in their garden and 32 trees in their orchard to provide year round organic fruit and vegetables for local soup kitchens.
I was so impressed to learn about their rainwater collection system. They have a container that holds nearly 3,000 gallons of rainwater that drains from the roof. The rainwater is better for their organic garden because it doesn't contain chlorine, and it is also free to collect!
They have an entire outdoor classroom area with picnic benches and a giant chalkboard. Throughout the entire year, students from the elementary school across the street come over and they do lessons on all things gardening related. It was very apparent that their mission is to not only help feed people nutritious food, but to also educate people and teach them how they can do the same in their own backyards or even with limited space. If you check out their Facebook page, they have a lot of photos of the elementary school students coming and helping (homeschool groups visit often too).
After we finished the project of transplanting young yellow squash and weeding the beds, Sharon let my kids (and my brother) help feed the chickens. They were so excited about this and they talked about the chickens all night long. Sharon explained to us that the chicken coop was a project that a local Boy Scout did for his Eagle Scout project - so cool! They donate the eggs to the soup kitchens and use the manure for fertilizer in their compost piles.
Sharon was telling me that they are looking for new grants so that they can get a pump that will automatically pump the rainwater over to the handicap accessible section of the garden and they hope to eventually get solar panels that will run the current pump they have for maximum sustainability. My husband works for one of the large oil companies in Beaumont and I am going to see if we can help get a grant through his company for The Giving Field. If you happen to know of any local companies who provide grants for community initiatives like this and want to pass the word along, I'm sure they would appreciate it!
Overall we had a wonderful time! Two hours was about as long as we could stay out in the heat because we had the baby was with us, but in those two hours not only did I learn a lot about gardening from Sharon, but I also just left so impressed with what they have accomplished in the short time they have been open. In less than two years, The Giving Field has donated more than 10,000 lbs of organic produce to local soup kitchens. That is more than 40,000 servings of nutritious, locally grown produce! How amazing is that?! Sharon also mentioned in our conversations that she really hopes that The Giving Field can inspire people in other communities/states to start similar gardens and that if anyone has any questions or would like to start your own community garden that she would love to help you get started and share some of the things she has learned along the way. She was able to visit a community and school in Berkeley, CA that helps community gardens get started and learned so much during that process. To paraphrase her words, "Why reinvent the wheel when we can share with you what worked and didn't work?". If you have interest in starting a community garden of your own you can reach Sharon through The Giving Field's Facebook page here.
The Giving Field has open volunteer hours every week on Monday and Wednesday from 4-6pm and every second Saturday of the month from 9am-noon. I plan to try to make it a few times a month with my kids to volunteer. If anyone lives local to Beaumont, TX I would love to get the chance to meet you at the garden and get as many volunteers there as possible! I just love what The Giving Field is doing and has accomplished and want to continue to support it. I can't guarantee that I will have makeup on, or that my kids will be perfect angels, but it would be fun to get to meet some of you guys in person while helping feed the community too. I hope you will consider stopping by! Have you ever been to a community garden before (this was my first time)? If so, what were your thoughts? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments below!
Natalie Hodson is a mom of two showing how to balance family, fitness, and a healthy lifestyle. www.nataliehodson.com