Not Enough Tomatoes

The greenhouse at NorthPark Presbyterian Church will be used to grow tomatoes for area food pantries. (Photo: M.E. Clary)

Seeing that Vickery Meadow Food Pantry didn’t have any fresh produce to offer, Keri McCall began showing up seven years ago with two or three sacks full.

“But there would be 70 people in line,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this isn’t enough.’”

Building on a Sunday School class’s idea, McCall started a small garden on the NorthPark Presbyterian Church grounds.

“It’s great to sit and read your Bible, but we really need to be doing things,” McCall said.

The idea has grown to include building a greenhouse.

To practice, McCall had an Eagle Scout build a small hydroponic garden in her backyard. She tended to 20 tomato plants, yielding about 800 tomatoes in a growing season.

“I was kind of surprised,” she said. “I was just using floor heaters from Home Depot and a little window AC unit. It was [also] a good way to educate myself on how to handle the bugs biologically instead of using pesticides.”

Keri McCall and an Eagle Scout check out the hydroponic greenhouse in McCall’s backyard. The greenhouse is used to practice growing tomatoes for a larger project at NorthPark Presbyterian Church. (Photo: Keri McCall)

After two years of working through the zoning and permitting processes, the church broke ground in January on a hydroponic greenhouse, where McCall hopes to start growing tomatoes in September.

For the first year, she and her volunteer crew will plant about one-half capacity to work out the kinks.

Those 200 plants should yield about 800 tomatoes per week.

Eventually, McCall plans to boost the growing to full capacity of 400 plants.

“We will out produce what Vickery [Meadow] Food Pantry can handle,” McCall said. Church members haven’t decided where the rest will go, but they will work through other food pantries.

Volunteers and Sunday School classes will rotate greenhouse work with McCall so it can be managed full time. To distribute the tomatoes, the gardeners will make use of another one of the church’s missions.

The Reverse Food Truck, the second of its kind in the country, goes out about three times each month to collect food and donations for people in need. NorthPark’s truck has been rolling out since September 2014.

“The church just seems to [feel] the mission is growing toward food insecurities as the need is so great,” said Ellen Mata, the church’s director of mission and older adult programs.

“One of the neatest byproducts of the Reverse Food Truck is it gives you the opportunity to visit with the Dallas community that have no clue of how many moms are going without to feed their children; how many families in Dallas are lucky to get a meal,” she said.

Since its inception, NorthPark’s reverse food truck has collected 79,585 pounds of food and nearly $23,000 in donations. Mata estimated that it has provided food for about 61,000 meals.

Soon, NorthPark’s greenhouse will grow some of the food that makes up those meals.

“It’s a really great feeling to see how the church is just really committed to this,” McCall said. “It’s a great community effort, and I want people to go to the food bank and expect tomatoes every week, not [as] just a surprise.”

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