by Becca Knutson, TCFPC Board Member
Since January 2014, Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) has operated their demonstration garden, The Learning Garden, on a residential lot owned by Ridglea Christian Church in the Ridglea North neighborhood. The garden serves the purpose of demonstrating several different types of growing methods, different materials that can be used and different watering techniques. From this garden, volunteers and staff work hard to grow fresh fruits and vegetables to donate to local food pantries. They also maintain a robust composting program that provides enough organic material to nurture the entire garden, year-round.
Composting is a very useful process that can be implemented in any garden. It involves taking garden waste, kitchen scraps, yard clippings, leaves and other discarded organic materials, combining them with water and air to encourage the process of decomposition. After a couple of months, the finished product is beautiful, organic material that will provide nutrients to the garden crops and help improve the soil tilth.
TAFB’s Learning Garden has been able to produce enough compost to supply all of its needs for the last two years, resulting in thousands of dollars in savings. While the composting program has been successful using contributions from the community and the garden, not having a consistent source of high-nitrogen “green” materials was the only thing keeping it from producing at capacity.
|Gardener Marshall Harris adds vegetable scraps from the CSFW to the worm bin at TAFB's Learning Garden. Vermicomposting is one of several methods of breaking down organic matter like vegetable scraps into useful soil amendments for the garden.|
On January 10, 2018, Edward Gutierrez of the Culinary School of Fort Worth (CSFTW) contacted Lauren Hickman, gardener at TAFB to find out if the two organizations could work together to reduce food waste. Edward suggested that CSFTW’s students start saving their compostable kitchen scraps to donate to TAFB’s compost piles. CSFTW is located on Camp Bowie Boulevard, less than a mile from TAFB’s Learning Garden which makes the relationship simple and convenient.
After a few conversations to work out the logistics, the two partners came up with an effective program that would benefit both organizations. Each week, students at CSFTW use small buckets at their workstations to collect any unused food scraps. When the buckets are full, the students empty their buckets into larger bins stored by the dumpsters. Then, each Tuesday before the regular volunteer workday at the Learning Garden, TAFB staff picks up two 33-gallon tubs full of fruit, veggie and grain scraps that will be used by volunteers in the compost piles.
As of June 2018, TAFB’s Learning Garden has incorporated approximately 790 gallons of food waste donated by CSFTW. The food waste is used by volunteers to build new compost piles during almost every workday. It also allows opportunities for Master Composters to earn volunteer hours by teaching others how to compost. The increased amount of compost produced will benefit TAFB’s Learning Garden by increasing production of fruits and vegetables and allow us to share compost resources in the future.
CSFTW also benefits from the partnership. Saving food scraps in separate containers facilitates instructor and student awareness of food waste. Instructors are also able to use the discarded produce to critique the student’s methods and provide teachable moments. Removing the food scraps from the waste stream also saves on dumpster space and diverts organic material from the landfill where it would not break back down into usable materials.
As TAFB and CSFTW continue to work together, the culinary students hope to be able to volunteer their time at the Learning Garden to learn more about growing their own fruits and vegetables. Eventually, the culinary school would like to have a garden of its own.
To find out more about TAFB’s Learning Garden and volunteer opportunities, please visit www.tafb.org/volunteer or register for a garden workshop at www.tarrantareafoodbank.eventbrite.com. Information about the Culinary School of Fort Worth can be found at www.csftw.edu.