The new item available this summer from the REPLENISH food bank is the yield of a literal gardener.
Growing this year are nine different varieties of herbs that are given to clients. It’s a pilot project of Program Assistant Olivia Forte-Gardner of REPLENISH. Although she’s got one fewer “e” in her name, that’s right: her name is (in part) Gardner.
While she grows in many containers at home as well, Forte-Gardner uses her green thumb this season to produce bags of assorted herbs. Those bags, about 30 herbs every few weeks, ultimately go to individual households through local food pantries that are supplied by REPLENISH. The bags, about the size of a grocery produce bag, hold enough for about 1-2 meals. They have quickly become some of the more sought-after items when they’re available.
“They are gone right away,” Forte-Gardner says with some surprise, and pride. She sets up the bags on different distribution days, so a larger breadth of agencies have a shot at them. REPLENISH has different agencies picking food up every weekday.
“My first love is plants,” Forte-Gardner said. “So growing something, right at our site, that can be a benefit to cooking on a shoestring budget... well, that makes me even happier to be working here."
The beauty of this offering is that it offsets the high cost of herbs at the supermarket for cooks who want to supplement their meals.
“It costs like $2- $3 for fresh herbs,” she says of the little plastic packs available in stores. “So this frees up that money. That could be cereal, beans, or meat,” she explains. Not to miss the obvious, she said, “It adds flavor.”
The plantings consist of Spanish and European oregano, mint, cilantro, sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and of course the requisite basil. There are about 20 pots of varying sizes at the food bank, based in East Brunswick. They are tucked into pallets, leaning against the back wall, with a nourishing southern exposure. The herbs get a hardy trim at each harvest, to encourage growth.
This small crop is an outgrowth of the Tom Ellison Memorial Garden, named for a long-time food bank worker who started the garden many years ago out of his passions for gardening and giving. Tom passed away in 2020 after a valiant battle with cancer. The roughly 20-by-10-foot garden, with several varieties of vegetables, is still growing strong, thanks to the dedication of Warehouse Manager Alberto Peña, who ensures the garden is watered and tended every day, even weekends.
Olivia’s herb patch is yet another successful program of REPLENISH, which is supported by Feeding Middlesex County. Forte-Gardner said she has a request for more cilantro, so she’s re-planting from harvested seed.
[article written by FMC Communications Committee member George Francy]