‘Farmer Doug’ helps provide fresh produce to food shelvesLocal food shelves might soon have an abundant supply of fresh fruit and vegetables if Doug Hoffbauer has his way.
Local food shelves might soon have an abundant supply of fresh fruit and vegetables if Doug Hoffbauer has his way.
“Farmer Doug,” as he’s called by most who know him, is launching the Growing for a Cause campaign, which encourages local people and organizations to spare some garden space to grow fresh produce that can be donated to food shelves and soup kitchens.
“We should take care of our own; this is our community,” Hoffbauer said. “People fall on tough times and need a helping hand to get going. This is about getting our hands dirty for a good cause.”
With the help of a grant from the Northland Foundation, Hoffbauer is offering vegetable seeds and plants to individuals, church groups and other organizations to grow — with a stipulation that they will donate the fruits and vegetables to a local hunger organization.
Hoffbauer estimates that the project will result in about 7,000 plants in the ground this summer. He’s offering cabbage, broccoli and cucumber seeds, as well as carrot and green bean transplants.
Although the growing season is usually well in swing by mid-June, Hoffbauer said the sluggish start to spring has been a slight hindrance to the project.
“This spring has made it kind of difficult,” he said. “There hasn’t been
a lot of enthusiasm. We’ve had to beat the bushes and find some volunteers.”
Hoffbauer and his wife Lois own a 10-acre farm in Midway Township, just outside of Proctor, where they grow fruit, vegetables and Christmas trees. They have been selling products at the Duluth Farmers Market for more than 30 years.
Hoffbauer worked for 25 years as a gardener at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center in Duluth before retiring three years ago. While working at the prison, he said he was able to grow and donate more than 50 tons of food to local organizations every year before leaving.
He now serves on the St. Louis County Extension Committee, a partnership between the county and the University of Minnesota that seeks to connect community needs with resources. It’s through the committee that Hoffbauer has worked with the Salvation Army’s food shelf and the Northern Lakes Food Bank, where he said he noticed a need for fresh food.
Hoffbauer and St. Louis County Extension agent Bob Olen, another gardening expert, then decided to launch the Growing for a Cause initiative.
“Bob has had this long interest in healthy food and communities,” he said. “So we just tied in how we can get people who are on a low-income to utilize healthy foods and make them more available.”
Hoffbauer said that he’d like to see the donations go to the Northern Lakes Food Bank, so that they can be distributed as needed to food shelves across Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin.
Meg Kearns, director of the CHUM food bank, said fresh fruit and vegetables are often hard to come by for food shelves. Most food shelf users don’t get the nutrition they need because they opt for cheaper, processed foods, she said.
“I think one of the reasons is most people we see at CHUM are living in apartments and don’t have any knowledge or expertise to do gardening on their own,” she said. “The more fruits and vegetables we can offer, hopefully the more habitual we can make them.”
Kearns said she has also been encouraging farmers and casual gardeners to consider planting an extra row of crops to donate, or to donate excess product to the food shelf.
“It can be as simple as an extra grocery bag or tomatoes or green beans,” she said. “It all adds up.”
Hoffbauer said that he hopes to make Growing for a Cause an annual program.
“If we have a positive impact on just a few people, it’s worthwhile,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the community to take care of its own.”
Hoffbauer is still seeking volunteers willing to grow some of the plants. He will offer tips for planting and growing the crops. If you are interested, contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org