'Grow a Row for St. Joe's' helps feed the hungry in the Fox Cities

Posted at 10:41 PM, Jun 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-28 23:41:54-04

Connie Olson loves being in her happy place.

"I could stay here 24 hours a day," she chuckled.

Olson is among 30 members of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Appleton who are involved in the 'Grow a Row for St. Joe's' program. The community garden project relies on volunteers to grow fresh produce to be donated to the St. Joseph Food Program. The Menasha pantry serves 750 low income families a week.

"Many times, if you don't have a lot of money, the only thing you can afford to buy are a lot of those processed foods, fat foods. We don't want to see that," explained Olson.

This year, she and her team planted a wide variety of vegetables on the Petersen Dairy Farm off Ballard Road.

"My mom passed away back in 2012, and we really didn't have the time to maintain her garden properly, so we thought it would be a real neat way in my mom's memory to have her loving, caring, nurturing ways go on," Mark Petersen said.

From planting to weeding and watering, this group of green thumbs put in a lot of time and effort in order to reap the biggest rewards. Last year's harvest yielded 12,000 pounds of produce.

"The amount of food that we're able to give to St. Joe's pantry every year is astounding, and we just want to give more," Olson said.

Pantry leaders say Grow a Row for St. Joe's saves them money and allows them to offer a wider of array of healthy veggies.

"We have a certain budget, and we're able to buy the basics. Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, but if families are coming in every week, you know, nutritionally they need a broader option. Who doesn't want more to choose from?," said Director of Marketing, Karen Ziemke.  
They say another great aspect of the program is that everything that's donated is organic.
Ziemke says, "We know where the produce is coming from, and we know when it leaves."
This commitment to quality has also turned into a learning opportunity. These gardening enthusiasts trade tips and ideas.
Olson says, "It's just such a warm fellowship feeling. You know you're among friends. We're all working toward the same goal."
She hopes that when families who use the pantry sit down for a meal, they know the food they're eating was grown with love.
"I hope they feel that our community is a caring community."
Grow a Row for St. Joe's started in 2009. This year, seven groups are participating including the Timberrattlers and McCain Foods. 
"I just thank our community enough. They're so generous," said Ziemke. 
The pantry also accepts donations from home gardens, so if you end up with some tomatoes you don't want, give them a call. They'll even come to your house to pick up your load.