DelVal partners with the community to host a hunger forum and announces a new charitable garden

Feb 03, 2012

DelVal announced that it will dedicate land on its main campus as a charitable garden to help supply food for local food pantries Feb. 3 at a hunger forum on campus.  

A local elderly woman didn’t feel comfortable asking for help from a food pantry and was believed to be eating dog food. A local family lost their source of income, their car and became homeless when they came to the Bucks County Opportunity Council for help. The BCOC helped them qualify for a car and repurchase their home.

These are the faces of hunger, and they’re local.

Delaware Valley College partnered with the community to host The Hunger Nutrition Coalition of Bucks County’s Biennial Hunger Forum “Hope of the Harvest: Hunger No Longer.” The event, held on campus Feb. 3, aimed to strengthen partnerships, support the local agricultural community and improve the nutrition of local people in need.

Russell Redding, DelVal’s dean of agricultural and environmental sciences, announced in his keynote address that the college is partnering with the Bucks County Opportunity Council and Philabundance to create a one-acre charitable garden on its main campus.

The garden will help provide fresh, healthy food for families who are struggling in Bucks County and the surrounding area.

The initial garden will feature five priority crops: sweet corn, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and leafy greens.

The goal is to get plants into the charitable garden by May and harvest the first products in early July.

At the event, the Hunger Nutrition Coalition of Bucks County presented the results of a survey about hunger in the local area.

They surveyed families receiving services from 34 agencies in 2011. The survey found that the need for food among employed people has increased in the county and that visits to food pantries were up by 21 percent.

Dean Redding said that the need in the area is well documented.

“What do we do?” asked Dean Redding. “That’s what this forum is about.”

The event brought together a variety of perspectives, including people who work in agriculture, people who work for food pantries, in human services, for nonprofits, and community members who were curious about hunger.

Speakers covered topics such as: challenges that farmers face in the community related to donating fresh food, the ability to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for food pantries and the challenges with storing and moving these products off the shelves quickly.

Participants also worked together in small groups of 5-7, which were led by Hunger Nutrition Coalition members and DelVal students, to discuss the issues and share ideas.

DelVal student Zachary Gihorski presented details of the charitable garden project at the forum.

“Today I’m announcing something not covered in a red cape, but covered in hard work, dedication and passion,” said Gihorski, a senior agriculture education major.

Gihorski said work on the project started Oct. 1 and has involved student leaders from a variety of campus organizations including: the collegiate 4H chapter, Sigma Alpha, Inter-Club Council, Feel Good and Oxfam, as well as many other students.

He asked DelVal student leaders to join him on stage to be recognized as he presented.

“There are a lot of things happening on this campus that make you very proud to be here,” said Dean Redding of the students’ efforts.

The garden will help meet a critical need for fresh food for the charitable food system.

According to the Bucks County Hunger Nutrition Coalition survey, “97 percent of food pantry clients in our communities go without fresh fruits and vegetables if their local food pantry has none.”

“There’s a big need for more produce in the community,” said Mike Olenick, the opportunity council’s food and nutrition network manager. “This garden will be a big step forward to helping to meet that need.”

The garden will provide the specific foods that the food pantries need and give DelVal students a chance to teach local people about a variety of topics from nutrition to food production.

“A really big part of this is the education aspect,” said Gihorski. “We want to teach people…To do what a college is supposed to do and educate the people around us to the best of our ability.”

Gihorski said that DelVal will need the community’s support on the project.

DelVal students will be involved in the whole process  -- from planting, to harvesting, packaging and delivering the products.

Redding believes that giving students opportunities to use what they learn in class to solve community problems is a critical part of education and a cornerstone of the DelVal experience.

“We’re incredibly excited to be working with a partner like DelVal,” said Mike Olenick. “The agricultural resources that they offer as well as the energy that the students are putting forth…this is really a rare opportunity that we’re looking forward to getting started with.”

DelVal students from a variety of programs came out to participate in the forum.

“I thought it was really interesting,” senior Rebecca Furman, a food science major, said of the forum. “Hunger is something a lot of people don’t see and aren’t aware of. Education is important to get people to help and realize it’s an issue. There were a lot of people represented here today and a lot of great ideas."