Fighting Hunger with Fresh Produce: Generous Garden Project

When Bo Cable and his wife relocated to Greenville from Florida after Bo was laid off from a corporate marketing position, he needed to figure out what to do next--or, as he put it, what to do with the second half of his life. What he hit upon was the Generous Garden Project, which would provide fresh produce to organizations that feed the poor.

Asked if he had a background in agriculture, Bo says, "No, I don't--I come from corporate America. But I was a hungry child, so there's the tie-in." And, he adds, "YouTube and Google can teach you a lot."

In the spring of 2011, Bo decided to find a location and get started. He noticed that the Wild Radish, a health food store on Verdin Road, had a piece of land in the back that wasn't being used, so he approached owners Jody Harris and Gigi Perry with his idea and asked if he could use the land. "They said yes," he says, clearly still incredulous that it was that easy.

Jody Harris had previously worked with a mission in San Jose, California, that helped street women, so she loved the idea of using the land to help the needy. "It was just weeds back there," she says, "and the owners of the land had said we could do whatever wanted on the property. So it made sense to us."

The first plants went in the ground on April 28, 2011, and since that time, with the help of thousands of individual volunteers and groups, they have donated 53 tons of food to organizations such as Miracle Hill, Safe Harbor, Greer Relief, Miracle Hill Boys Home, Shepherd's Gate, Overcomers, Pendleton Place, Turning Point, and Maranatha Redencion.

One challenge was trying to find a way to get fresh vegetables to those in need during the winter months. A friend told Bo about hydroponics, but his research into that led him instead to aquaponics, which he felt was a better fit with his philosophy of growing things naturally. A $53,000 grant from Greenville Women Giving allowed Generous Garden to add aquaponics to their outdoor garden.

There are ready-made aquaponics kits that they could have purchased, but, Bo says, "Our mission is grow, give, teach. So in order to teach other people how to do this at home, I wanted to use readily available materials so that anyone could do what we do."

Just two years in, Generous Garden has made an impact, but now the challenge is to figure out a way to make it sustainable. Bo and the board are in the process of solidifying their procedures and their business model because, Bo says, "I want it to outlast me."

Up until now, the organization's corporate sponsorships have been one-time grants--in addition to the Greenville Giving Women grant, GE funded the building of a barn (which was constructed largely using reclaimed pallets and other materials), and Milliken donated land for a community garden.

A sustainable nonprofit requires a reliable donor base, long-term corporate relationships, or some kind of entrepreneurial, revenue-generating venture to support it. Farm-to-table events, selling produce at the downtown market, and the recent 5K have brought in some money, but Bo and the board are looking for new ways to support their mission through revenue in addition to soliciting financial donations.

In addition to being sustainable in Greenville, part of the reasoning for solidifying the business procedures is so that the Generous Garden model can be replicated elsewhere. Recently, Harvest Hope of Columbia reached out to Bo to learn about Generous Garden's method.

In keeping with the "teach" portion of the mission, the group has partnered with the Clemson Master Gardeners to offer free workshops on such topics as soil health, composting, and organic gardening through the summer and fall.

To find out more about the workshops, volunteering, or how you can support Generous Garden, visit http://www.generousgarden.org.

 

 

Photos Courtesy of Generous Garden

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.