Martha's Table gets a fresh perspective

Cathy Tait, left, and Gerri Hall harvest squash from a vegetable garden at Brookside Gardens. Almost all of Brookside's organic vegetable harvest goes to Martha's Table, a food pantry in the District.
Cathy Tait, left, and Gerri Hall harvest squash from a vegetable garden at Brookside Gardens. Almost all of Brookside's organic vegetable harvest goes to Martha's Table, a food pantry in the District. (Christopher Anderson/the Gazette)

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By Alison Bryant
The Gazette
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gerri Hall stepped onto a bathroom scale, noting the number. Grabbing a sack of fresh eggplant, she watched the digits rise and scratched down the total. The gardener repeated the process with bundles of squash and tomatoes until she had recorded the weight of all the vegetables.

Simple arithmetic fixed the total at 35 pounds.

"When you have squash and eggplant, it doesn't take much to rack up that weight," said Hall, an assistant gardener at Brookside Gardens, a 50-acre public display garden in Wheaton Regional Park. "It's fun to think someone's going to benefit from this."

Brookside Gardens recently began donating almost all of its organic vegetable harvest to Martha's Table, a District-based nonprofit group that provides food, clothing and educational programs to those in need, in an effort to promote healthy eating, said Leslie McDermott, marketing and media relations manager at Brookside Gardens.

"There's such a movement to eat better, to eat healthier foods, to eat more organic foods," McDermott said. "We knew that we wanted to be able to donate our produce to some local charities, and so we're more than happy to do this."

Brookside's recent decision to donate vegetables comes in response to Martha's Table's request for fresh, local organic food.

"About a year ago, we were at a relative zero for fresh, local and organic," said Dominick Musso, director of facilities and food programs at Martha's Table. "Today, we are probably 95 percent local and organic as it relates to the food that we serve the homeless. And that's because of agencies who kind of responded to the call for better nutrition in the fight against obesity."

The group serves about 300 homeless people every night, Musso said. During the school year, Martha's Table serves about 300 children per day; that number increases to 600 in the summer.

Martha's Table has received positive feedback from its clients since the switch from mostly nonperishables and pre-prepared foods to mostly local foods.

"They were a little resistant at first," Musso said. "Now that we have more access to fresh fruit, for example, we are able to provide it more regularly. They have adjusted very well and I think are very appreciative."

Last year, Brookside Gardens decided to grow vegetables in response to the community's increasing interest in knowing where its food comes from, McDermott said. The garden's three-year organic food theme includes educational events for children and adults to learn about vegetable gardens and sustainable foods. Brookside's gardening staff is composed of eight staff members and usually about eight volunteers.

"We feel it's sort of a pivotal moment in our history when the subject of food is in the forefront of debate, whether it's health, ethics, the economy," she said. "All of our programming, all our events are all echoing the same theme that we want to promote: local, organic, sustainable food."


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