Starting this summer, Mercyhurst University has designated a portion of its on-campus farm to grow produce exclusively for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania.
Second Harvest volunteers will maintain the plot, which spans a fifth of an acre – just more than 8,700 square feet.
“The plot is an odd shape, so we weren’t planning on using it this year,” said Tim Boucher, farm manager. “By giving the Second Harvest volunteers the opportunity to do it themselves; we’re making great use of that otherwise empty space.”
Mercyhurst has had a long-standing relationship of “gleaning” produce from the farm to donate to Second Harvest. Nearly 7 tons of produce were donated last summer, thanks in part to the efforts of first-year Mercyhurst students who helped pick during their Freshman Day of Service. In 2012, the donations totaled nearly 8 tons.
“We are so grateful to have developed this strong partnership with Mercyhurst University,” said Karen Seggi, executive director of Second Harvest. “The fresh produce that is donated each season helps our clients to put healthy, nutritious food on the table for themselves and their families.”
If the growing season remains kind, Boucher said he hopes the weight of this year’s donations will be similar to previous years. In addition to donating the entirety of the harvest grown from the special Second Harvest plot, Mercyhurst will continue to donate the extra harvest from its regular acreage.
Second Harvest, meanwhile, intends to begin planting on Monday, June 9, at 10 a.m. Mariana Skonieczka, food sourcing representative for Second Harvest, will lead a group of about 20 volunteers to begin working the designated section of the garden and planting the nearly 700 produce plants generously donated by Stan’s Garden Center in Erie. To volunteer with planting or garden maintenance for Second Harvest, community members can call Mariana at: (814) 459-3663, ext. 109 or email to email@example.com.
The Mercyhurst Farm, located in Girard from 2010-2012, moved to North East in 2013 where it occupies four acres of a 12-acre plot. This summer, the planting area expanded to 10 acres with familiar favorites from years past – tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, herbs and more – as well as a few trial plantings of newcomers like kohlrabi and leeks. Already looking ahead, Boucher has small blueberry bushes and apple trees growing stronger in the greenhouse to be planted outdoors in future years.
The Mercyhurst Farm, though not USDA certified organic, utilizes sustainable growing practices whenever possible. The staff does a lot of weeding by hand. Plus, they use organic pesticides and only spot-spray the crops when pesticide use is absolutely necessary. Spot-spraying allows “good” insects – predatory bugs that eat the pesky ones – to stick around and take care of things the natural way. Sometimes, the farm staff members walk the rows to hand-pluck the bad bugs off the plants individually.
All produce grown in the Second Harvest section of the garden will be distributed through Second Harvest member agencies.
Interested in where to enjoy the ‘Hurst’s tasty bounty? Fruits and veggies grown at the Mercyhurst Farm are delivered to many locations, including the Erie and North East cafeterias; local retirement homes; subscribers to the farm’s CSA (community-supported agriculture) share; and weekly produce stands at the Erie and North East campuses. Mercyhurst students in the hospitality and culinary programs also utilize the harvest, sometimes even walking over to pick fresh veggies during class during fall semester.
For more information about the Mercyhurst farm, contact Tim Boucher, farm manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Second Harvest Food Bank of NW PA, please visit online at www.eriefoodbank.org.