Volunteers picking beans in the Plant-a-Row for the Hungry vegetable garden, include, from left, Lee Cronan, Ronnie Peden and Hoyt Baker. Below, Ronnie Peden shows off the corn in the Plant-a-Row for the Hungry garden that is still coming in. (Staff Photos: Karen Rohr)
Ronnie Peden examines a yellow legal pad on which he’s listed the names of vegetables, the dates planted and the amount harvested. It’s meticulous record-keeping for a quarter-acre vegetable garden cultivated by the Rockdale County Master Gardener Extension Volunteers and volunteers from the Conyers Chapter of the Citizens of Georgia Power. This growing season, the garden has produced over 1,200 pounds of vegetables.
So, who benefits from this bounty? The hungry in Rockdale. The vegetables are donated to the Rockdale Emergency Relief Food Bank, a nonprofit that assists economically disadvantaged people.
Volunteers have harvested 450 pounds of tomatoes, 300 pounds of corn and more than 100 pounds of squash. Other vegetables include eggplant, peas, okra, string beans, butter beans and a variety of peppers. Sweet potatoes are on their way and the group is also planting a fall garden with collard greens, turnips, cabbage, lettuce, radishes and carrots.
Lee Cronan with the Georgia Power group said the vegetables provide a nice alternative for the clients at RER who receive primarily packaged food from the nonprofit.
“The whole idea is help the people at RER,” said Cronan.
Food Bank Manager Susan Clark said before distributing the vegetable to clients, RER stores the food in a commercial refrigerator the non-profit obtained with a grant from the Hospital Authority of Rockdale County in March.
Twice a month, Clark said, RER in conjunction with the Rockdale County Extension Office offers vegetable preparation and cooking classes at RER for those clients who are interested.
The classes cover topics ranging from the importance of washing the vegetables to how to prepare them. Clients watch cooking demonstrations and get to sample the food, while they’re waiting in the lobby.
“A lot of people know what to do with the (vegetables) but then again we want to make sure, and it’s always neat to find out about new recipes that are healthy,” said Clark.
Master Gardener volunteer Ronnie Peden said extensive preparation and maintenance goes into the garden, which has operated since 2009 on property behind Dixie Graphics which donates use of its land.
Over the years, volunteers have worked 44 tons of horse manure and compost into the soil, installed an irrigation system with a weeper hose (which Dixie Graphics allows to be hooked up to its water source) and put up an electric fence to keep out the deer.
This growing season, they started tilling and preparing the soil in March, drew a garden diagram to map out locations for plants (which entails 32, 100-foot rows of vegetables), and planted vegetables at different times to space out the harvest.
The 12-member volunteer team keeps the garden in operation, harvesting three days a week and performing maintenance, such as cutting the grass.
“There’s always something to do,” said Cronan.
Peden is a Master Gardener intern and is using his participation in the garden as part of his required volunteer time.
He said getting there at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and working in the dirt for a few hours is rewarding, considering the end result of his toil.
“When you’re dripping sweat you say, ‘Well, at least you’re doing it for a good cause,’” said Peden.
Cronan, who also volunteers at the RER Clothes Closet, said that he views his work in the garden as tending to his community, of which we are all a part.
“We need to share and give back to them,” said Cronan.