Eco Garden at Botanical Gardens helps folks in ‘food desert’

pink celery at Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
Chinese pink celery is one of the nontraditional vegetables grown in the Eco Garden at Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Traditional and nontraditional produce is donated to Gerard Place to distribute through its community kitchen and outreach. Gerard Place is in one of Buffalo’s poorest communities. Photo courtesy Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens donated 692 pounds of fresh, organic produce to Gerard Place‘s Community Kitchen, noting that the need was three times greater this year because of the pandemic.

The food was grown at the Botanical Gardens in the Eco Garden, a 100-percent community-funded organic garden. The Eco Garden was established in 2019 with funding and support from the Josephine Goodyear Foundation, PLANT WNY, the Western New York Foundation and private donors.

Gerard Place provides housing for homeless, single parents and their families and empowers those parents through education, employment, vocational training, life skills classes and counseling.

Gerard Place is located in the Bailey-Delevan neighborhood, which is one of Buffalo’s poorest communities. It’s considered a food desert because there’s no grocery store within a five-mile radius. The lack of fruits and vegetables has very serious consequences for residents’ health.

Each year, the Botanical Gardens horticulturists choose a variety of traditional and nontraditional crops to give the community a chance to experience vegetables and herbs that they may otherwise never have tried. 

“This year we are proud to have successfully grown and harvested Chinese pink celery as a unique crop for Gerard Place,”said Michael Fowler, lead horticulturist of the Eco Garden. “With a smaller stalk, but stronger flavor, this celery is best prepared cooked rather than eaten raw like typical celery. The pale pink stem is perfect in stir-fry or even just sautéed.” 

When distributing the fresh produce, Gerard Place includes simple recipes their recipients can try at home to incorporate some of the unique vegetables and herbs. 

The Botanical Gardens has donated a total of 1,725 pounds of produce to Gerard Place over the years.

“We are very grateful to the Botanical Gardens staff and volunteers who work so hard to provide hundreds of pounds of vegetables every summer to the people in our food line,” said David Zapfel, president/CEO of Gerard Place. “The vegetables are also used for our healthy cooking classes that we do with our Senior Group and the families who reside here at Gerard Place.”

The partnership has been rewarding, said David Swarts, president/CEO of the Botanical Gardens, because it provides “tangible, immediate help to a community in need, where the fruits of our labor help those in need.”  

See a short video here about the Eco Garden and its relationship with Gerard Place.

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