A History of the Grant Beach Produce Distribution at the Hovey House

Published on 2016-01-25 in Garden Community

This story is told by Jerry Saylor. He is a long time resident of the Grant Beach neighborhood and a Navy Veteran. Thank you for serving your country and your neighborhood, Jerry!

The weekly Produce Distribution (PD) in our neighborhood is a year and a half old now, though in some ways it seems only a short time ago that we embarked on this journey. We at the Grant Beach Neighborhood Association (GBNA) were approached by Maile Auterson, the President of Springfield Community Gardens (SCG) with a novel idea. Because we had a community garden which is located at the Hovey House in the Grant Beach neighborhood, we would be eligible to receive produce from Ozarks Food Harvest (OFH) for distribution in our neighborhood.

We jumped at the opportunity though we had no idea of how we would make this work. When we inquired on how best this could be done we were told that we would be the pilot program of a much larger plan and that it was up to us to make it work. And so, with little knowledge and much enthusiasm we started.

From the beginning we converted our single car garage into a mini-market on a weekly basis, hauling out wheelbarrows, a garden tiller and mowers to make room. We installed permanent tables along one wall and set up folding tables along the other wall. A donated refrigerator was incorporated to complete the transition. We then swept and cleaned the area in preparation of the arrival of the produce.

Once the truck from OFH begins its weekly delivery, we help unload the boxes of mixed produce and start the process of sorting. For the most part, each type of item has its own box in the market. Tomatoes in this box, peppers in that box, grapes in another box, etc. This has become known as “The Dance.”

The produce volunteers are divided into groups. One group places unsorted boxes on the sorting tables. One group sorts the produce into milk crates. And another group empties those crates into the market area. With up to a dozen volunteers, it is a dance to swiftly get things done while avoiding collisions with each other, but that is part of the continuing fun, learning how to easily work with one another.

Once the distribution begins, some of our volunteers help carry baskets for shoppers who need help, some work at the packing table to transfer items from the baskets into boxes, while others carry those boxes to the cars of the shoppers. During the sorting process, damaged items are removed and placed into a box or bucket to be used for chicken feed by one or another of the volunteers or else it is recycled in a compost pile. We believe nothing should go to waste.

I won’t deceive you, it hasn’t always been sweetness and light and our operational plans didn’t just come into fruition overnight. We have had our growing pains like any grassroots organization, but we are lucky enough to have been given the latitude to figure things out for ourselves so that we might make the process as fair and equitable as possible. This is not saying that things are written in stone today, far from it. We still tweak the program as needed to give the best service we can to all of our shoppers.

From July to December 31, 2014 we distributed over 46,000 lbs. of produce to 358 families which comprised a total of 1,086 people. From January 1 to December 31, 2015 we distributed roughly 110k lbs. of produce to 392 families encompassing 1,103 souls. This exceeds 150k lbs. of produce distributed since the program began.

Recently we reached out to the new principal at Weaver Elementary School (which is located across the street from the Hovey House) to see about getting the word out to the parents of their students. She was very enthused about the timing. Not only does she see the need, but since shoppers are allowed to begin signing up at 2:30, school lets out at 2:45 and produce distribution begins at 3:00 it will allow a parent to sign up for produce, pick their child up and then shop for produce before going home. We see this as a win/win scenario for everyone involved, especially the children.

Our weekly distribution has become one small piece in the larger picture of helping people, especially children to eat healthy. At times, children will show up and politely ask for an apple or a banana which they are given. We wish to encourage them to make healthy food choices. But beyond the food, we are building community. People who take advantage of this opportunity meet neighbors they may never have known before, developing long term relationships in the process. This too is something which children see and learn from. You don’t have to be a stranger. You can reach out to others and create positive things.

Recently a small group of Grant Beach volunteers helped the Weller Neighborhood start their own produce distribution. They shared their own experiences and knowledge so that Weller’s PD could get a jump start. It must have worked because they now serve about the same number of families Grant Beach does, and we couldn’t be happier for them.

To finish this history, I wish to thank all the many people who have made this endeavor at Grant Beach (and elsewhere) possible. The list is too long to name everyone, but Maile Auterson and the SCG board members along with Christy Claybaker from OFH were instrumental in helping this program get off the ground. Of course without our former and current presidents and board members at the GBNA, our membership and our community garden we would have had nowhere to even begin this process. We have been lucky to have had the help of Jordan Coiner and Heather Parker from the Springfield/Greene County Health Department who have kept the statistics. We also have a new resource helper, Sherri Hull who is a nutritionist with the University of Missouri Extension Office. She brings recipes, handouts and a vast knowledge of food to our shoppers. Last but by no means least my thanks and admiration goes out to the produce volunteers and the shoppers we have served. Thank you all and if I have missed thanking someone please forgive me for my oversight. I myself am proud to have been a small part of this process.

With admiration for everyone,

Jerry K. Saylor

GBNA Board Member, GBNA Produce Manager, and Springfield Community Gardens Advisory Board member