Covering Louisiana

Jun 10, 2014 8:19 PM by associated press

Thibodaux has a new community garden for charity

Just in time for summer, Thibodaux has grown a bit greener with the addition of a new community garden.

With the approval and support of city officials, a group of Thibodaux residents and business people successfully cultivated the St. Francis Vegetable Garden, a community-based garden organized under the nonprofit Genevieve Foundation.

The half-acre garden is behind the Thibodaux Civic Center.

Garden coordinator Kimber Ratcliff said the St. Francis Vegetable Garden serves three purposes: growing produce for area food banks, encouraging gardeners to donate their extra produce to the food banks and educating the community on the importance of locally grown fresh foods.

The gardeners will plant spring and fall gardens and seasonally rotate the crops.

During the spring season, the garden vegetables include tomatoes, squash, green beans, okra, cucumbers, sweet corn and bell peppers.

Volunteers pick the vegetables on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and donate them to the Good Samaritan Food Bank, which distributes the goods to other area food banks.

Volunteers also are welcome to bring vegetables home for themselves.

"It's a great way to give back to the community during the summer," Ratcliff said.

Ratcliff said groups can be as small as five people or as large as 60 people.

While numerous service-oriented groups, including the Girl Scouts, school groups and church youth groups have volunteered at the garden, Ratcliff said many families also have dedicated time to the cause.

"The garden is like a gigantic outdoor classroom," said Nancy Bernard, the garden's assistant director. "The kids are having fun outside in the garden while learning."

Ratcliff said the harvesting experience introduces children to the gardening process and aspects of nutrition.

"A lot of kids don't realize where their food is coming from," Ratcliff said. "By harvesting the produce, we're teaching them to try and eat new things as well."

However, volunteer coordinator Josi Ortte said she believes the experience will benefit people of all ages.

"People aren't as exposed to healthy eating as they should be," Ortte said. "If more people were involved with the gardening, they may be more likely to eat local produce. It's like a spiral effect."

The idea of the community garden was conceived when Chris Ledet, the garden's executive director, connected with Catholic Charities in October as he searched for a charity to help.

Ledet, whose father was a farmer, said he always had an interest in gardening, and when presented with the chance to create a community garden, he jumped at the opportunity.

Like Ledet, Ratcliff also was seeking opportunities to garden. Upon meeting, they partnered to begin the St. Francis garden.

"Eating locally is so important," Ratcliff said. "We have great soil, and our weather here is perfect for growing crops all year round."

According to Ratcliff, the planning phase began in January, and planting began in April.

Ortte said the group welcomes individuals who are interested in volunteering, but also would like to recruit community groups to participate in the harvesting efforts.

For those who want to contribute but can't attend the morning harvesting, Bernard recommended row sponsorship.

Donors who contribute $100 can sponsor a row, and the group will dedicate a 12-inch by 12-inch sign with the donor's name or company's logo to the row.

Through this donation, the gardeners are able to purchase plants, seeds, mulch, irrigation and garden tools.

This spring, 28 rows are available for sponsorship.

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