"We're just kind of trying to get a jump-start on spring," said Lori Garton, director of the Good Food Project for the food bank located at 3223 Baldwin Avenue.
"It's a community garden project," Garton said during an interview Feb. 11 at the demonstration garden begun in a plot of land measuring one-third of an acre next to the food bank building.
"We were very generously given a grant from the Keller family. They have Inglewood Plantation here and they gave us a $1.5 million grant for five years," she said.
"Really, what we're trying to do is bring gardening and local food and sustainable growing to our area," Garton said.
"We really want people to learn how to grow their own food and have access to fresh, healthy vegetables," she said.
Garton said she was hired for the Good Food Project in September.
"Everything that's grown here goes to the food bank clients so they get fresh, healthy vegetables in their food boxes," she said.
The project also has an educational aspect to it. "It's where people can come and learn how to grow their own food, see how it's done, see what we're doing," Garton said.
"Everything grown here is done organically," she said.
"I try to do it as sustainably as possible, meaning that years from now, it'll still be able to grow food," Garton said.
"We're building it up so that in the future it'll be even better than it is now," she said, describing various practices used to avoid depleting the soil or polluting the water.
"I do things like compost and I catch rainwater and I use natural fertilizers and natural techniques to build the soil," Garton said.
"I depend on natural things, like different types of soil biology, and beneficial insects and beneficial plants, to kind of do the work that chemicals would do in a conventional garden," she said.
"So this is really just all about doing things naturally and doing things in an environmentally responsible way."
In addition to the demonstration garden, Garton said they plan other gardens across Alexandria and surrounding area, eventually at least one garden in each of the 11 parishes that the food bank serves.
"We'd like to have gardens there so that other people can get food in those parishes as well," she said, adding they'd like to see gardens at schools, churches, public land, hospitals and nursing homes, too.
"Anywhere where people are interested in growing their own food, we'd like to be able to help them do that," Garton said.
Harvesting continues pretty much non-stop throughout the year, though at present it is slow, she said, because of the transition from winter to spring.
"I don't have a lot of things growing right now but even there doesn't seem to be a lot, I'm still harvesting every single week," Garton said.
"I usually get about, oh, I'd say, between 20 and 30 pounds of food a week, about 100 pounds a month, and I really expect that to go way up during the summer," she said.
"Come the spring and the summer, I expect to be harvesting double that, triple that."
For more information about the Good Food Project, Garton said a Website is expected to be launched online in the next couple of weeks at www.goodfoodprojectcenla.org.
There is a Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/goodfoodproject, she said, plus there is a monthly electronic newsletter titled "Sprout" sent out to people who sign up for their e-newsletter by phone or email at "firstname.lastname@example.org. The fb stands for food bank. The food bank phone is (318) 445-2773 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (318) 445-2773 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
"We offer gardening workshops to the community, Garton added. The workshops at held at the food bank building on Baldwin Avenue.
"They're all going to be free for all of our clients and we're trying to keep them free for everyone too," she said, or as low cost as possible given some may require purchase of gardening materials.
The food bank serves more than 22,000 clients a year here and the 11 Central Louisiana parishes it serves, Garton said.
"Volunteers are very much needed and welcomed and we love them, because this is really what the whole thing is about, is bringing our community together so that people can learn to grow their own food," she said.
"When people come out here to volunteer, not only are they, you know, helping the cause, they helping to feed the hungry of our community but they're also learning how to grow organically," Garton said.
"I really encourage people to come out. It's going to help us out a lot and hopefully it'll help them out a lot too in learning," she said.
The demonstration garden is open for field trips and the community.
"We want people to take advantage of it as much as possible," Garton said.