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Backyard Bounty | Spring 2011 Out Here Magazine

Fran and Jerry Forsyth donate tons of fresh produce annually from less than 1 acre on their Georgia farm.

Charity gardeners provide nutrition for those who need it most

 

By Laura Sewell
Photography by Leita Cowart

 

It's a welcome sight around rural Polk County, GA — a 1991 Acura Integra puttering down the street, its hatchback brimming with corn, spinach, green peppers, and cantaloupe.

 

Each day, during the growing season, Jerry and Fran Forsyth deliver to two church-based food banks the fresh, nutrition-packed vegetables that for many is an unaffordable luxury.

 

"It's an elderly, poor community," Jerry Forsyth says. "People are pretty much scrapping for themselves."

 

The Forsyths, both 63, are charity gardeners — part of a budding movement of Americans who grow fruit, vegetables, and herbs and donate them to food banks and soup kitchens.

 

For the couple, the act is more gratifying than financial gifts.

 

"We had always been charitable, but our giving was limited to writing a check," says Forsyth, who retired from printing before partnering in a billiards website.

 

The Forsyths moved near Cedartown, GA, in 2003 after 30 years outside Dallas. When the city-dwellers bought 10 acres "about 8 miles away from the closest loaf of bread," as Forsyth says, they planted that first seed of thought. Then, he says, they read a report stating that a staggering number of American children still suffer from malnutrition and hunger.

 

"That shook us up. And it just hit us," he says. "We've got this land; why don't we use some of it to grow some food and give it away?"

So they took three-fourths of an acre and dug right in. But it wasn't easy. Although Fran was a master gardener in Texas, she had concentrated on flowers. And then there was the farming equipment. 

"We had a huge learning curve. Luckily, we've got a neighbor who has been in the country all his life. He was a huge help with his knowledge of how not to treat a tractor," Forsyth says with a laugh. 

Now, when the Forsyths walk behind their log cabin, they're greeted by a gentle slope covered with seven rows, the first two containing herbs and the rest featuring various crops. In the off-season, such cover crops as rye protect the soil.

And from that small plot of land, they've donated as much as five tons of fresh produce in a single year.

Charity gardeners such as the Forsyths are on the rise — and with good reason, says Ross Fraser, media relations manager at Chicago-based Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest).

"The need for food is profound," Fraser says. "Right now, 50 million Americans are at risk of hunger."

"The problem is, many people need help for the long run, and we have a responsibility to provide nutritious food," Fraser says. "We move 500 million pounds of fresh produce per year. In five years, we want to move 1.5 billion pounds."

Find your local food bank at feedingamerica.org, Fraser says. You can also contact places of worship, which often either operate or work with food banks.

That's what the Forsyths did, and they encourage everyone who has a bit of land to follow suit.

"A 6x6 foot plot of land in their back yard can feed a lot of people," Jerry says. "And you don't have to wonder if you're doing any good. You know you are."

Laura Sewell is a Brentwood, TN, writer.