Jacob Ross was considering options for his Eagle Scout project when he remembered: “Since I was little we’ve had a garden and I was always out there pulling weeds.’’
The garden project by the rising junior at Upper St. Clair High School has provided close to 400 pounds of fresh produce harvested and donated to the food pantry run by South Hills Interfaith Ministries in Bethel Park.
Jacob asked SHIM executive director Jim Guffey in February 2013 about creating a garden to benefit the food pantry for his Eagle Scout project.
He considered SHIM because his mother, Shelley Scherer, was a volunteer there.
“SHIM has a garden for fresh produce. I like to dig. So why not make one myself?” Jacob recalled asking himself.
Since 2012, SHIM has had a garden on its property on Park Avenue. Several other churches planted gardens to benefit the pantry in 2013.
For the project, Mr. Guffey approached his own congregation, Hamilton Presbyterian Church on Baptist Road in Bethel Park.
“We thought we had a nice piece of land that we are only cutting grass on and we might be better stewards of that land by creating a garden,” said the Rev. Lance Chapman of Hamilton Presbyterian.“We put it out to our congregation and they were excited to be part of it.’’
Jacob and his crew set to work removing the sod, laying the 3,264 square feet of compost needed to support the 48-by-85-foot garden. He located a donated auger and put in fence posts. He solicited the donation of 250 feet of chain link fencing and installed it with the help of other scouts and volunteers. The crew installed a gate and stained it as well as the fence posts. The ground work was completed in April of this year, allowing SHIM and church volunteers to begin planting.
“SHIM benefits many in the community and tries to increase general nutrition for the families they serve. This garden was a boost to that effort,” Jacob said.
The garden is filled with a variety of vegetables, including several kinds of lettuce, radishes, turnips, yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, hot peppers, herbs, green peppers and beans.
“Our hope is to be harvesting through September and early October,” Rev. Chapman said. “It’s a great connection. Once a week a group we call ‘Weed and Feed’ comes to work in the garden and we’ll have a light dinner together.”
An area served by SHIM’s pantry is Whitehall Place, formerly Prospect Park, where there is a large foreign-born population. Some of what is planted is specific to their various cultures, Mr. Guffey said. Some of the recipients of the produce have volunteered to work in the garden at Hamilton Presbyterian.
Mr. Guffey welcomes the bounty from other local gardeners, too..
“If you have your own garden and have an overabundance you can’t use, we’ll take it,’’ he said.
The garden on the front lawn of the church is the fourth garden to benefit SHIM’s food pantry. The others are at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in South Park, St. David Episcopal Church in Peters and Bower Hill Community Church, a Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon.
For 2012 and 2013 the harvest from the three gardens totaled 10,000 pounds and the total produce from all four gardens so far this year has been 3,050 pounds.
On a yearly basis SHIM serves 700-800 families, or 2,000 individuals.
“We are beginning to see some leveling off, but our numbers haven’t declined since the recession. Families are still struggling. And when you donate you aren’t helping people far away anymore, you are helping people in your own community,” Mr. Guffey said.
Jill Thurston, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.