The main St. Francis Vegetable Garden on Rienzi Drive behind the Thibodaux Civic Center was established in 2014.
Since then, over six tons of fresh produce have been donated to food banks in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. Last year, the Houma Food Bank served 3,491 families, representing 8,178 individuals. The Thibodaux Food Bank provided assistance to 1,815 families, representing 3,920 individuals. In Raceland, the Food Bank assisted 1,062 families (1,834 individuals).
We asked Kimber Ratcliff, vice president of the Board of Directors of St. Francis Vegetable Garden, to answer some questions about the nonprofit’s work and needs. Her edited answers follow.
1. What specific services do you provide?
Our mission is three-fold: Grow community vegetable gardens and donate the harvest to the food banks in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes.
Provide teachers and parents a living outdoor classroom where they can present integrated lessons on health, biology, math and science.
Support local farmers by educating the community on the importance of fresh local food for our health and the region’s economy.
The St. Francis Vegetable Garden has made it possible to provide fresh, local produce to those in need with our spring and fall gardens.
2. Tell us a short story that illustrates how your services have helped others.
Over 1,000 students have visited the gardens on field trips, which we offer free of charge. Science and health lessons come alive and students are encouraged to take home part of the harvest of the day. We love watching kids explore the garden while eating an ear of sweet corn they picked from the stalk. We often get phone calls from parents who can’t believe how excited their children are to help prepare and eat the veggies they took home that day. This garden is changing the way children in our community view healthy eating. The most important lessons learned at the garden are ones that children don’t realize they are learning, which are self-sufficiency and the importance of giving back to your community.
3. What are the qualifications someone needs to meet to receive your services?
The food grown in the gardens is distributed at the Good Samaritans Food Banks in Thibodaux and Houma. To receive services, the applicant goes through a screening process through Catholic Charities.
4. How can someone apply?
Applicants can apply in person at the Good Samaritan Food Banks.
5. What is your annual budget? How many paid workers do you have on staff? How many volunteers?
Our annual budget is around $12,000, which supports four gardens. We have two part-time workers and over 500 volunteers each year work in the garden.
6. What is your organization's greatest need?
We are currently raising funds for the addition of a children’s garden in Thibodaux.
The addition of a garden designed specifically for children would provide a place for children to learn not only about where food comes from and the importance of a healthy lifestyle, but also would serve as a place for students to get outside in the fresh air, unplug and explore nature. Families can use the garden as a recreation site to visit the garden to picnic and explore. Teachers can utilize the garden to teach lessons in science, math and nutrition.
7. What specific activities are available for volunteers? How can they sign up?
Corporations, families, civic groups, religious organizations and university/school groups donate two-hour field days in the garden where volunteers, plant, harvest, help maintain the gardens and deliver crops to the food banks. To schedule a field day, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Kimber Ratcliff at 512-924-0800.
8. Does your group need donations of money, services or goods? What are those needs and how can people donate?
Our organization is funded by in-kind and financial donations from businesses and community members, fundraisers and grants. Donations can be made at www.stfrancisvegetablegarden.org or mailed to 218 Rienzi Drive, Thibodaux, LA 70301
9. What is the greatest reward volunteers receive in exchange for their time?
Pope Francis said, “When food is shared in a fair way, with solidarity, when no one is deprived, every community can meet the needs of the poorest.”
There is something very special about planting a seed that will produce food and provide someone in need a healthy, fresh meal. Our volunteers not only help the community; they have the opportunity to be outside and learn more about gardening from master gardeners and farmers who lead volunteer groups.
10. Is there anything we haven't asked that you would like people to know about your nonprofit, the services you provide and the people who receive those services?
The Rienzi Market features local farmers selling, fruit, vegetables, seafood, flowers, plants, honey, eggs, meat and artesian bread. The Rienzi Market is open seasonally on Thursdays from 3:30-6 p.m.