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Garden City Harvest food security project

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Garden City Harvest food security project

Meadow Hill Community gardener waters her plot

For 25 years, Garden City Harvesting Missoula has partnered with like-minded organizations to stem food insecurity in Missoula County.

Town Pump Charitable Foundation recently donated $7,500 for the Garden City Harvest Food Security Project.

The Food Security Project tends four neighborhood farms and 10 community gardens, sprouting 400 garden plots to “make this food accessible for everyone,” said Jean Zosel, executive director since2011.

“That’s only two of our four programs. I know Town Pump has been a big sup-porter of food banks, and since COVID hit, there have been so many people struggling to put food on their tables. Town Pump was happy to give it.”

Garden City Harvest food security project

The Town Pump donation is ear-marked primarily for the neighborhood farms, but Garden City Harvest’s roots dig deep and far: it also maintains seven school gardens for a popular Farm-to-School program, plus a Youth Development Program in which at-risk teens redefine themselves as farmers.

About 40% of GCH’s operating bud-get comes from individual contributions, about 25 percent from grants, and another 35 percent from program income generated from garden plot rentals, summer camps, and veggie sales, said Zosel.

Since its business calendar revolves around the growing season, GCH hopes to raise $80,000 by the end of the year.

“We would love to blow $100k out of the water, but we will see,” she said. “There’s always kind of this mad scramble at the end of the year—and it’s been kind of a mad scramble this past year with COVID, but it all goes back into the ground and into people’s mouth.”

Garden City Harvest impacts a wide range of partners in the community: discounted and subsidized mobile farm stands at senior centers and Head Start, Soft Landing Missoula, Missoula YWCA and the Meadowlark Domestic Violence

Shelter, recipients of season finale produce. Garden City Harvest distributes be-tween 140,000 and 150,000 pounds of food per year on a sliding fee scale, based on market rate. Community gardens alone grow 100,000 pounds of food annually for individual families.

“All of this food is grown for the com- munity in one way, shape or form,” Zoselsaid. “We do a lot of good things to meet people where they are. One-hundred per-cent of the edible food goes back into the community.”

“We connect with over 20,000 people a year with our work; it’s got a huge impact. We’re quietly doing our work and I think we surprise people with that. “Up to 70% of gardeners, typically from low-to-moderate income households, qualify for a sliding fee scale, scholarship or payment plan. Vegetable subscriptions and Community Supported Agriculture boxes are available. Waiting lists for community gardens fill up fast.

“We ask people to come personally tour farms to … pick up your share of veggies each week. That way, you get to know your farmer, how your food is grown and enjoy some green space.”

Garden City Harvest leads a robust food distribution network, partnering with All Nations Health Center, Mountain Home Montana, drug and alcohol abuse recovery centers and rehabilitation

“We’re just trying to make this food accessible to everyone; that’s the goal. But we’re always looking for gaps to fill. GCH is not something your average community has, but this is kind of unique to Missoula and Montana. For us to be a nonprofit and we’re operating these farms and growing all this food, teaching kids, welcoming at-risk teenagers with their first jobs and getting volunteers for our vegetable program – it's other ways to get food to people.”

The COVID pandemic proved especially tricky, but GCH persevered.

“Last year we just really felt the weight of that to get that food out to people,” she said. “We do 20,000 pounds of food to the Missoula Food Bank and 5,000 pounds to The Portello Center.”

Zosel oversees a staff of 31 at 20 sites around town. Most employees are seasonal, but five are year-round workers.

“Keeping everyone healthy was key last year,” she said. “I felt really lucky that our staff are such dedicated, hard-working folks.”

Over 300 donors fund the programs. Garden City Harvest’s last capital campaign from 2016 to 2018, raised $2.8 million to build a permanent, heated home office and community space on the1657 River Road farm, merely one of several properties the nonprofit owns.

Garden City Harvest aims to connect gardeners and build community in positive, healthy, meaningful ways. “It’s a lot harder to hate someone if you know them, “she said. “Everybody comes at it from a different place.” Josh Slotnick, one of the Garden City Harvest co-founders, a Missoula County commissioner and University of Montana environmental studies professor, helped create a vital food mission that Zosel and her staff generously continue to share with other towns, cities and initiatives.

“Because we’ve been doing this for 25 years, we’ve figured some things out, so we’re happy to share,” added Zosel. “We’ve grown into this and we realize how important it is.”

I know Town Pump has been a big supporter of food banks and since COVID hit, there have been so many people struggling to put food on their tables. Town Pump was happy to give it.

Jean Zosel Executive Director Garden City Harvest



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