Sunday, December 08, 2013 5:03 AM
Veterans of The Mission Continues volunteer in Beltsville, Md on Oct. 26. Courtesy Photo
Published on: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
By Yevgeniy Trapeznikov, Special to The Sentinel
Frost had to thaw at the feeling of camaraderie of 60 volunteers who gathered on a nippy Saturday morning in Beltsville, Md., to get a gardening field ready for the winter season.
Veterans of the Mission Continues, a national non-profit organization that empowers veterans to serve their community, as well as volunteers from the nation’s largest casual dining chain Applebee’s, came together to tend a fruit orchard and harvest vegetables.
The gardening field in Beltsville, property of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), which is using the plantation to conduct yield studies, is expected to feed D.C. low-income families.
“The land was originally intended for agricultural use, but I don’t know when it was the last time UDC had something substantial going on here,” said George Jones, CEO for Bread for the City. “That’s why they said that we could use it for our cause.”
Bread for the City (BfC) is a Washington-based charity providing free food, clothing, medical, legal and social services to the vulnerable residents of Washington and metropolitan area.
As the university pursues purely scientific goals, it allows BfC volunteers to harvest vegetables and some crops in the field.
BfC charity efforts help around 5,000 households a month with an average family income of $7,000 a year.
Vu Nguyen, a leader for the Mission Continues, D.C., Service Platoon, one of the five similar post- 9/11 veteran groups, said his platoon was seeking to be involved in hunger fighting and obesity reduction efforts.
“We have come here today to help provide food to families who live in ‘food deserts’ and do not have access to fresh produce,” said Nguyen.
“As Applebee’s mission is all about neighborhoods and community, the efforts of Mission Continues was a natural fit for us,” said Steve Layt, senior representative of the Applebee’s, whose volunteers were also helping to weed and spread mulch over the trees.
UDC loaned about three acres of its land to the BfC for free. The charity, with the help of individual donations and federal grants, purchased and planted about 700 fruit trees as well as a number of berry bushes over two years ago.
According to Jones, creating an orchard with fresh fruit is “one of the newest ways” the charity – which also runs two roof top urban gardens and a number of community gardens and pantries – tries to get food into the hand of those who need it.
The Beltsville orchard’s portfolio is comprised of four types of apple trees and three types of Asian pears. It also has 250 blackberry, 250 blueberry bushes and 1800 strawberry plants.
In a couple of years, as the garden grows to its full capacity, volunteers are expecting the orchard to yield about 45,000 to 50,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables annually. All the harvest will be distributed to the needy in Washington and metro area.