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Ozarks Food Harvest Gives and Receives Help From Gardeners

In the heart of Missouri's third largest city, you can find the small-town spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. KSMU's Benjamin Fry visited two Springfield gardeners who are giving back to their community.

If you drive a few blocks south of the bustling Battlefield Road, you'll find a very different scene.

A family of goats basks in the June sun while a rabbit scampers among stalks of corn.

Next to a home behind a shop, a row of beets and potatoes grows alongside several rows of corn and pole beans.

This is the 2 acre back yard of Jim Quarles.

"It's a sandbox for me to play with my John Deeres."

He's been farming since he was seven years old.

He moved back to his hometown of Springfield a few years ago after farming 2000 acres near Stockton, Missouri.

Upon seeing his new back yard, Quarles said his instincts took hold.

"I got a hold of a 20 year old John Deere Lawn and garden tractor, and the next thing you know I've got a tiller and the next thing you know I'm planting a garden, and the next thing you know, where am I gonna harvest all this stuff, what am I gonna do with it?"

In the newspaper Quarles saw an article about the Ozarks Food Harvest and gave them a call.

He's been donating to them ever since.

"Two years ago when we started contributing to them we had a much smaller garden than we've got now and we gave them about twelve hundred fifty pounds. Last year it was about 22 hundred pounds."

The Ozarks Food Harvest is a food bank that provides food and supplies to shelters and kitchens across 29 counties.

It takes part in the national Plant a Row for the Hungry program, which encourages gardeners to grow an extra row of fruit or vegetables for charity.

Jacquie Neill is the resource coordinator for the Ozarks Food Harvest.

She's observed that fresh produce is a luxury that many low income families have to sacrifice.

"If they had food stamps they try to get the most mileage out of those food stamps that they could with filler food, not necessarily nutritious food, because that's more expensive."

While many are thankful for the fresh fruit and vegetables that the food harvest provides, others are thankful for the chance it's given them to help themselves.

Across town from Quarles lives James Womack.

He's a partially disabled veteran who's received help from the food harvest in a different way.

He showed me around his back yard where railroad ties mark three small gardens.

"What we did was, I had two rows of lettuce in here. I had two or three plants over there and I've harvested two or three in here, so I like the cabbage, they do to, so we thought we'd grow some this year."

Besides lettuce and cabbage, Womack grows green beans, tomatoes, squash and eggplant.

He also grows vegetables you might not have heard of, including purple-hull peas.

"You know they're ready when the hulls start turning purple. That's when they're ready to pick."

Womack says The Ozarks Food Harvest made all this produce possible.

He volunteered for another Ozarks Food Harvest gardening program a few years ago.

When it had to be disbanded, he received gardening supplies for his service.

"My grandpa used to tell me this all the time: If you give somebody a fish, you'll feed him for a day. If you teach them to fish, you'll feed them for a lifetime. And that's how this works."

And Womack doesn't let the generosity stop with him.

He donates almost half the produce he grows to his low income neighbors.

He says some of these neighbors have even been able to start their own gardens.

"If a bunch of people would get in and just grow little bitty gardens and give a little bit of it, just a quarter of it to things like the food harvest program and stuff, it would make a massive difference."

Just another example of the gift that keeps on giving, right here in Southwest Missouri.

I'm Benjamin Fry for KSMU news.


  • Ozarks Food Harvest Website