In my cosmopolitan county, it’s hard to imagine that 200,000 go hungry daily. Douglass DeCandia, 25, is a young neighbor who is working to address this problem with the Food Bank for Westchester by growing produce to feed the hungry.
As food growing projects coordinator, Douglass has contracted with upstate farmers through a grant from the national nonprofit, Feeding America, to bring in 2,000 pounds of fresh produce weekly.
This summer, expanding on four existing gardens on county sites, Douglass will be farming a total of 2 ½ acres, spread among five sites in the county, with a goal of growing 10,000 pounds of produce. “The greatest quantity and the best quality” is what Douglass is aiming for.
Photo courtesy Food Bank for Westchester
Another dimension of the project is garden/farm education. Several of the plots are at correctional facilities and residential schools where young people will provide the labor and in turn, learn about growing food.
“I couldn’t be a teacher in the conventional sense,” says Douglass. “I share best growing with the kids, working together and giving them responsibilities.”
Volunteers will help farm the other sites. Two have existing plots, but three are brand-new. Two sites also have small greenhouses to work with, and there is composting already taking at the sites, too. Douglass is working on soil amendments to remineralize the soils.
I met with Douglass in a small greenhouse on the grounds of a county-owned historic teaching farm. He was seeding his Swiss chard as we talked, and the tender shoots of his already-sprouted onions and greens served as backdrop. Douglass has carefully chosen his crops, like the onions and sweet potatoes, to be low maintenance, self-regulating, nutritionally dense and long-keeping, mostly requiring a one-time harvest.
He’ll also grow the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash), carrots, beets and winter squash. One site will grow tender greens, such as lettuce, spinach and arugula, and another will grow tougher greens, such as collards.
Douglass talks eloquently and spiritually about eating nutritionally as the first level to taking action and making change. His approach means that awareness and community come with every meal. The Food Bank Farm has committed to The Farmers’ Pledge, a set of guidelines emphasizing the integrity of the farmer in every aspect, beyond organic certification. Meeting this standard will serve as a source of pride for and a promise from the Food Bank Farm growers.
Nutritionists run the Green Thumb program of the Food Bank, helping agencies and clients with information, recipes and storage tips for the produce. Here’s an easy recipe Sara Cox, the food bank’s nutrition resource manager, provided that incorporates the farm’s scallions.
Recipe: Pork Skewers with Pineapple-Scallion Rice
- 1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained and juice reserved
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 tablespoon peeled, chopped fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 ¼-pound pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 6 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 ½ cups rice
- 5 10-inch wooden skewers, soaked for at least 2 hours prior to grilling
Combine juice, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, oil and seasoning. Add pork and scallions and marinate for at least 30 minutes. Pre-heat an outdoor grill (or a grill pan on the stove). Meanwhile, boil 3 cups of water. Add rice. Turn down to simmer, and cook covered for about 15 minutes.
Thread the pork and about 2/3 of the pineapple chunks onto four skewers. Thread the scallions onto one skewer. Grill the scallions about 5 minutes and the pork about 12 minutes, turning until cooked through. Chop the remaining pineapple chunks, and stir into rice. Remove scallions from skewer and stir into rice. Serve pork skewers on top of the rice.