Harvest from the heart

Harvest from the heart

Nutrition & Services For Seniors (NSFS) will be collecting the last of its winter garden harvest and is seeking volunteers to help with the effort Saturday, Feb. 20, at 4590 Concord Road in Beaumont from 9 a.m. – noon.

Volunteers are needed to harvest fruits and vegetables, work the compost, and till garden beds to prepare them for the spring garden.

The nonprofit’s 16-bed garden has yielded more than 1,000 servings of fresh organic fruit and vegetables during the winter for hungry Southeast Texas seniors through the Meals on Wheels program, said NSFS Executive Director Elaine Shellenberger.

“We were looking at the people we served and realized that our clients weren’t always able to have the fresh vegetables or fresh fruit as much as we would like them to have,” Shellenberger said.

NSFS part-time associate and master gardener Toni Clark said when she found out one of NSFS’ homebound clients wasn’t able to purchase any fresh vegetables from the grocery store, she decided to bring her some from the Jefferson County Master Gardeners’ harvest. This experience led to the decision to start an organic garden for the seniors NSFS serves.

“When somebody gets something fresh and says, ‘Oh, I haven’t had anything fresh like this in so long,’ it’s exciting,” Clark said. “Something as simple as lettuce. Some seniors don’t have access to the grocery store.”

NSFS serves around 1,000 homebound seniors annually, according to Shellenberger.

“(The client) was just thrilled to have some greens to cook,” Shellenberger said.

In January 2015, NSFS approached the Beaumont Rotary Club about the project and Rotarians volunteered labor to help build beds for the garden and a 177-foot-long, 8-foot-tall privacy fence surrounding the property.

“We provided the labor and skillls of our Rotarians,” said Beaumont Rotary Club president Pat Anderson. “After we built the fence, we then went in and set up the beds for the vegetables to be planted.”

Anderson said around 30 Rotarians volunteered their time for the project. Jefferson County Master Gardeners also pitched in on the effort.

“The garden was much needed to give the people (NSFS) serve meals to every day some fruits and vegetables to help with their nutrition,” Anderson added. 

Individual donations as well as donations from the Edaren Foundation and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church helped fund the garden project.

Although the project was delayed by spring rains, the privacy fence was completed in July and vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and other tasty greens, as well as strawberries, were planted in the fall. NSFS saw the first harvest from the garden in December. The strawberries were so popular with seniors that NSFS had to plant a second bed, Clark said, who added the nonprofit plans to plant blueberries in the spring.

Norman Gene Greer of Port Neches, a homebound NSFS client who suffers from syncope and cannot drive, has received collard greens, broccoli and brussel sprouts from the winter garden. Greer, who received produce from the garden twice over the winter, said it had been quite a while since she had tasted fresh veggies and receiving the greens evoked childhood memories the 87-year-old has of working the garden with her father when she was a young girl in Central Gardens in Nederland.

“During the Great Depression, when he didn’t have a job, our neighbors showed him how to plant strawberries, and we had nine rows of strawberries, and we would sell them. What we couldn’t sell, we would give away because we didn’t have any way of keeping them.”

Although Greer didn’t get to taste any of the strawberries from the NSFS garden, she enjoyed the fresh greens Meals on Wheels volunteers brought her.

“I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the collard greens,” Greer said. “I ate them with light bread and loved them.”

Shellenberger said future plans for the garden include planting trees and building a pavilion for shade as well as pouring a concrete slab to provide walker and wheelchair accessibility. The nonprofit would like to set up a relaxation area as well as build raised garden beds for seniors who would like to work in the garden.

“This would allow us to invite people from nursing homes and assisted living facilities to come out and have some raised beds that they could work in,” she said. “They could plant vegetables or flowers just to enjoy playing in the dirt, which many of them haven’t been able to do in years. We’re trying to make the garden bountiful as well as pretty.”

For more information on the garden, follow Nutrition & Services For Seniors on Facebook or call (409) 892-4455. A drone video by Tim Sudela of the construction of the garden and fence is available for viewing on the Rotary Club of Beaumont Facebook page.


Kevin King can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 249, or by e-mail at kevin [at] theexaminer [dot] com.