Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley has been offering Food Pantry clients fresh produce through the Plant a Row program for several years. These summer donations help supplement menus with nutritious fruits and vegetables from local community gardens as well as farmers’ markets and grocery stores. However, a special partnership with the Monocacy Farm Project takes it a step further.
The Monocacy Farm Project is on 53 acres by the Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem, owned and managed by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Monocacy Farm Project includes an apple orchard, community gardens, production fields and demonstration gardens. Nearby Congregation Brith Sholom’s Rabbi Michael Singer is on the board of the project, and he and his congregation work hard putting in many volunteer hours to support the project. Singer explained that the goals of the farm are not only to grow food for the hungry, but also to do it in a nourishing and sustainable way and to educate and involve the community.
“Our members at Brith Sholom have been active at this farm, from clearing thistle to laying down drip irrigation to weeding and harvesting for Jewish Family Service and others. It’s such a great thing to be able to be a part of, and every year we’ve been able to increase the yields. The impact has really been tremendous,” said Singer.
The Monocacy Farm Project’s Grow Healthy Community initiative provides free weekly supplies of organically grown fruits and vegetables to area food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters throughout the growing season. Throughout the year, education programs and workshops are offered for children and adults on such topics as organic gardening, ecology and healthy eating.
“Monocacy farm helped our agency understand the value of fresh produce and the message that it sends to the client. There is a difference between canned peas and fresh peas. Who wouldn’t choose to have fresh?” said Rebecca Axelrod-Cooper, JFS impact coordinator.
The JFS Community Food Pantry is one such recipient of their organic produce. The Monocacy Farm Project model of only donating unblemished or undamaged fruits and vegetables fits well with the JFS model of having a choice pantry.
“Monocacy’s theory of only giving out produce that is not bruised aligns with the JFS idea that we only want to give out food that we ourselves would eat,” said Chelsea Karp, JFS volunteer coordinator.
While the Monocacy Farm Project donates to the food pantry, JFS also donates time back to the Monocacy Farm Project through the JFS Gives Back initiative. Staff, board members and volunteers spend a day each year out on the farm helping to pick the produce which will get donated to JFS and other area food pantries.
“We encourage our community to get involved with Monocacy Farm Project. This worthy cause is a great place to do a bar or bat mitzvah project or to just spend time volunteering to give back,” said Karp.
Those looking to get involved can do so in a number of ways, and can also participate in the farm’s Pick Your Own opportunities which are open a few times each week during the summer, picking their own organic produce and leaving a small donation.
“I appreciate being able to grow food and then share it with people who need it,” said Eli Stogsdill, project manager for the Monocacy Farm Project. “Working with partners in the emergency food system like JFS is a way to make sure we can get it to people who need it the most. Especially in the last year when a lot of people lost a job, a lot of places had increased demand. All people should have access to food, and they should also have nourishing food they’re excited about. We are grateful for the support we get both financially and support in labor, know-how, expertise and lots of other ways.”