Tomato Forest

There are a many reasons that I count myself as one of the luckiest girls in the world to be here at the Regional Food Bank every day.  Don’t worry, I’m not about to write out a list of them.  I’m just going to mention one that’s really close to the top of that list.

Urban Harvest

If you don’t know what Urban Harvest is, I encourage you to click that link and read up on it.  It’s awesome.  I have a desk job with a 2.5 acre garden in the backyard.  That’s pretty sweet.

I was just now back there, in the garden, strolling through our new ‘Tomato Forest.’  This field has been planted with a variety of tomato plants that produce only small tomatoes – the best size for small fingers, small mouths, and small tummies.  There are 32 different varieties with suitably varying names.  Morning Sun.  Riesenstraube.  Isis Candy.  Wapsipinicon Peach.  Hssiao His Hung Shih.

I’m pretty personally invested in the successful growth of these tomatoes.  I’ve spent more than one morning digging my fingers into the soil that offers nourishment and support to their roots.  Last time, I was surrounded by a couple dozen middle school students who’d come to lend a hand.  After several hours of ensuring that the beds of our Tomato Forest were free of weeds, I’d imagine that I wasn’t the only one in the group who hoped that our work wasn’t wasted.

And soon, when the tomatoes have grown, our forest will be ready to host another kind of youth group.  You see, we like to call this field of tomato plants a forest, but really, it’s a classroom.  It’s a place where low-income children from urban neighborhoods will get to see for themselves where their food comes from – what a tomato is and what it takes to bring it into this world.  They’ll get to learn about natural gardening, the life-cycle, nutrition.  And, of course, they’ll get to experience the delight of eating a naturally grown tomato moments after picking it off of the plant.  How did you like the Wapsipinicon Peach?  You should really give the Isis Candy a try.

But the vision we have for the exciting future of our tomato forest can’t come to fruition without the dedicated service of the volunteer groups that are keeping the weeds pulled today.  This is true for all of the ‘classrooms’ we have in Urban Harvest – our indoor strawberry garden, our fruit orchard, all of the raised vegetable beds – our volunteers keep all of them going for us.  And I hope that as they do that, they’re able to share our vision.  I hope that the teenager who’s kneeling in the dirt clearing bind weed from the base of a tomato plant today can feel a connection with the child who will soon be able to visit that same tomato plant to sample his or her first fresh tomato.  Then it’s a classroom for both of them.

It can be for you, too.  Here, I’ll give you the link again.

Urban Harvest

Come and give us a hand.  It’ll give you a chance to see what I mean when I say that I’m one of the luckiest girls in the world to be here every day.

Denice Hurlbut

Denice Hurlbut

Denice is an Americorps Member for the Regional Food Bank in Volunteer Retention. She is enthusiastic about teaching young people that they are part of a greater world community that they have the power to improve. She also really loves to smile, and is quite good at it.
Read more articles by Denice



Team is Community

I love the Thunder! My husband and I moved to Oklahoma City one year before the Thunder came to Oklahoma City and while I had grown up a Dallas Mavericks fan my allegiance quickly changed after my first Thunder game.  During the playoffs, I put a Thunder flag on my car and stayed up late into the  night to cheer on my team.  The playoff games are so unique, because businesses sponsor shirts for all of the fans at the game to wear. My favorite playoff shirt this season had the phrase “Team is Community.”  It summed up what I feel like this team has done for our great state.

When I worked on the Food Bank’s school pantry program, I would visit schools and discuss the program with staff. In every school, I noticed a Thunder flag, Thunder foam finger or Thunder poster in the office or principal’s office. The presence of that logo made me feel at home and connected to the school.

Honestly, I have gotten that same “team is community” feel through my work at the Food Bank. I feel a special connection with the 53 counties that we serve. I have met partner agencies, donors, school officials in Lawton, Ada, Weatherford, Enid, Ponca City, Red Rock, Guthrie and more. Every person is passionate about the role they play in fighting hunger in their community. In my first visit to Paoli to discuss the school pantry program, I intended to meet with school officials and to tour the location of the school pantry. The pantry worked in partnership with the local Methodist church, so SIX community volunteers also showed up to meet with me! Several of them took time off of work so they could learn about the pantry program but also explain to me the impact that the food would have on their community. I was blown away by their desire to help hungry kids.

Last week, I walked into a small business and smiled when I saw a big Feeding Hope and Letter Carriers  food drive poster on the wall.  I thanked them for serving as a collection site. The business owner quickly pointed out that she hadn’t collected very much. This didn’t matter to me. She had brought awareness to one of our biggest community food drives and she had taken the time to become an ally and advocate of the food bank and the hungry people that we serve.

The Food Bank is a big team that relies on so many different partners. I challenge each of you to become a part of our team through volunteering, donating or advocating. Now, all I need is a big foam Food Bank finger to wave around!

Ellen Pogemiller
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
Special Projects Coordinator