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New greenhouse feeds food bank's mission -- and clients

By: BARBARA COTTER
April 22, 2011
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photo - Becky Mares and Toni Mariani check out the new greenhouse at Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. The greenhouse will provide fresh produce for the food bank year-round, and will also serve as an educational tool to teach the public about sustainability and growing one's own food. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, The Gazette
Becky Mares and Toni Mariani check out the new greenhouse at Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. The greenhouse will provide fresh produce for the food bank year-round, and will also serve as an educational tool to teach the public about sustainability and growing one's own food. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, The Gazette 

In Care and Share’s perfect world, every person served by its food bank would receive fresh, locally grown produce. But for now, the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit will hand out as much as it can from its 3-year-old seasonal gardens and a new greenhouse that was dedicated Friday.

“When it grows and is pinchable, it will go right inside to the food bank,” Care and Share garden manager Donna Ross said as she surveyed the delicate sprouts emerging from the warm soil inside the greenhouse.

Last year, Ross said, Care and Share’s three outdoor gardens yielded about 1,000 pounds of collard greens, corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, lettuce and other veggies and fruits, which went to churches and community centers that operate food pantries. The $25,000 “green” greenhouse, funded through a grant from the Colorado Garden and Home Show, will augment the supply year-round.

Care and Share officials are well aware that the produce grown on its property on Constitution Avenue will go to only a fraction of the people in its 31-county service area, which includes some of the poorest places in the state. But the gardening program is as much an educational effort as a practical one. Jennifer Mariano, director of programs, said that in talking to children served by some of Care and Share’s programs, she discovered many don’t know where their food comes from.

“This is to help educate the children and our community,” Mariano said.

Ross said school and other groups will be able to visit the greenhouse to learn about gardening, and maybe leave with a desire to start their own.

Care and Share also used some of the $100,000 grant it received from the Garden and Home Show to support community gardens and horticultural projects in seven other counties.

In addition to showcasing the greenhouse, Care and Share officials used Friday’s ceremony to talk about summer hunger and increased demand for its services at a time when donations tend to fall off.

Tom Ramirez, director of partner agency development, said contributions of food to food drives has dropped 50 percent in four years, though the agency is able to tap into money from a number of governmental and philanthropic funding sources to buy food and meet demand.

But funding is always in flux, and never guaranteed, especially as lawmakers look to balance the federal budget.

“We never stop looking for funding,” said chief development officer Charles Rice.

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