Honey Brook Twp partners with ChesCo Food Bank to feed the needy

Members of Boy Scouts Troop 9 of Honey Brook and parents assemble the framework for two raised garden beds that were installed at the Honey Brook Township municipal building on May 1. Construction of the raised garden beds was overseen by the Chester County Food Bank, which also supplied the materials, soil, and seed. Photo supplied by by Mary Kay Peterson.

On the evening of May 1 two raised garden beds were installed on the grounds of the Honey Brook Township Municipal Building, signaling the official start to a partnership between the Chester County Food Bank and the township which will help to feed needy families in Chester County.

The raised beds, measuring ten feet in length, three feet in width, and ten inches high, were assembled by Boy Scout Troop 9 of Honey Brook under the direction of Mary Kay Peterson, the Coordinator of Raised Bed Garden Projects with the Chester County Food Bank.

The food bank provided at no cost the lumber (cypress boards), soil, seed, and technical assistance needed to build the beds, which are located behind the township building next to a generator. It took approximately ninety minutes for Troop 9 and Peterson to build the beds’ frames, fill them with dirt, and plant the first seeds – kale, beets, green beans, and carrots.

“It was one of the most fun and fastest build I have ever done,” said Peterson. “The boys were very capable and hands-on. They dead a great job working as a team.”

While the Chester County Food Bank has helped build hundreds of raised beds in locations such as churches, schools, parks and libraries, these are the first raised beds that have been built directly onsite at a municipal office location. This makes Honey Brook Township a model for other municipalities in the county looking for a way to benefit those in need of fresh and nutritious food.

Having the township serve as a site location for the raised garden beds was an idea which emerged from Honey Brook’s Parks and Recreation Commission. According to commission Secretary Therese Mauchline the group first began a discussion about having beds installed in early 2013. Part of their presenting the idea to Honey Brook’s Board of Supervisors for approval included having Peterson come and speak to the supervisors.

“Therese contacted me and asked if I could come and talk to the board members about the beds,” said Peterson, “and everyone was in favor of (the project).”

The commission subsequently received the supervisors’ go ahead on building the beds in April.

Part of the arrangement between Honey Brook Township and the Chester County Food Bank is that 70 percent of the harvest from the raised beds will be donated directly to a food bank in Honey Brook - the Steeple to People Ministries Food Bank located at 749 Todd Rd.

“The raised bed gardens work out really well and supply a huge amount of fresh produce to those we serve,” said Chester County Food Bank Director of Development Anne Shuniak. “We have close to 600 raised beds throughout Chester County at over 120 sites, and that number is growing every day. We have (produce) sent directly to our partnering agencies so that fresh food gets to those who need it as soon as possible.”

Steeple to People’s Ivan Stoltzfus said that the ministry food bank provides food to about 20 area families each month.

“Without the help of (the Chester County Food Bank) we would not have nearly as much fresh food as we do. (Programs) like these are a way to work together to help the community and I think they are a wonderful thing,” he said.

Shuniak said that the county’s food bank does a lot of fresh produce – with over 600,000 of fresh produce distributed through Chester County last year, and most being grown organically.

“Chester County is very fortunate, because it is a great agricultural county. We have a lot of neighbors and friends who need help, and as a community we look to take care of one another through providing food and by providing information on nutrition,” she stated.

The remaining 30 percent of the harvest that will be taken from the newly installed garden beds at the township will be available for any volunteers to take home in exchange for their time and energy – and those volunteers are currently being sought out by Mauchline and the commission.

“We are looking for people to help weed, water and harvest,” she said. “We are hoping to get enough volunteer support so that people can help on a rotating schedule where they appear every day or every other day, depending on the weather.”

The volunteers will be asked to track the progress of the growth in a small notebook, and to weigh and record the amounts harvested for the food bank. Mauchline said that those who are interested in participating should contact the Honey Brook Township office at 610-273-3970 or come to a Parks and Recreation Commission meeting.

According to Shuniak, the raised garden beds program sees a lot of volunteers who are first-time gardeners, and she said that no one should feel intimidated because of a lack of experience.

“People who are completely new to gardening are welcome to participate, and you do not have to be a green thumb to help.”

Peterson said that caring for a raised garden bed is an excellent way for the inexperienced to acquire basic knowledge of garden which can then be applied to gardening at their own homes.

In continuing the food bank’s involvement after the build is complete, Peterson herself will pay a few visits to the site during the growing seasons.

“I show up a few times and tell them that ‘I am here to audit you’,” she said jokingly.

She said that she will pay additional visits if there are any serious concerns that require her attention. She also makes herself available by email for feedback of any general questions - such as identifying whether something is a plant or a weed.

“The response from the people of Chester County has been gratifying and amazing. I have worked with so many people in doing this and it really is a fabulous feeling,” she said.

Visit the Chester County Food Bank website at www.chestercountyfoodbank.org

The Honey Brook Parks and Recreation Commission meet on the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the municipal building. Residents are encouraged to attend meetings, where they can become more involved by serving on the commission (there are two open seats on the commission presently) or by simply offering suggestions as to what actions the commission can take to improve the community.

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