AmeriCorps VISTA plants hope among those in need
By Kate H. Elliott
Forward STEPS feeds families every Thursday, but additional programming nurtures them with resources and education. On a sunny March Sunday, Kellie Arrowood passed out seed packets and leftover tomato containers to a handful of Muncie families as part of a Forward STEPS initiative to teach participants how to garden. Arrowood works for Second Harvest through AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a counterpart to the Peace Corps that supports organizations driven to eliminate poverty. Sharing gardening expertise, she said, empowers these families with the ability to create a renewable food source and enjoy that sense of achievement that comes from growing food from seed.
“We are a community, each one of us and no matter if we are giving or receiving, we all should have access to the most basic of necessities,” said the Muncie resident, who maintains a plot at the Maring-Hunt Community Garden Pavilion. “Yes, we need to feed people today, but to truly move the needle on poverty, we need to take a more holistic approach that addresses all the variables that lead to, keep people in and prevent them from overcoming this crisis.”
Arrowood grew up gardening, but her time with the land blossomed when a series of obstacles spiraled her family into an “endless cycle of poverty.” She approached a neighbor, who allowed Arrowood to work beside her for a summer. “It was worth all the sweat and achy muscles,” she said. Even at her lowest moments, her garden feed her stomach and her soul.
“Gardening is the one place that I can look at my effort and see and enjoy the results. If I put nothing into it, I get nothing out of it and vice versa,” Arrowood said. “The variables of weather, climate, accessibility to amendments and types of plants that are grown add enough risk and unknowns to it that it keeps it exciting to me.”
She relates to the Forward STEPS participants since she has been there—down, even living out of her car at times—and doesn’t talk about robust gardens in lush backyards or expensive raised beds. She talks about gardening in recyclable containers, seed saving, creating compost from waste and managing produce with limited time and resources.
“Getting started and gaining knowledge are the greatest barriers to gardening,” she said. But Forward STEPS and other programs are working hard to provide those in need with education, support and space, such as access to community gardens. Arrowood manages a Facebook group for participants to post pictures of their growing produce and offer each other encouragement and tips. The feed is filled with seeds sprouting and hopeful voices.
Magic Stock in a Pot
This is a favorite summertime recipe that Kellie Arrowood makes from the produce in her garden to flavor her soups and other recipes that require meat or vegetable stock.
- Veggies (whatever’s in your garden, and you can supplement with purchased produce) carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, peppers, parsley, eggplants, corn on the cob, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, kale, peas and beans.
- Meat (optional)
Directions: Fill a large pot (about 24 quarts) halfway with water. If you’re adding meat to your stock, then add the entire cut (including bones) to the pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer. After an hour, remove the cut of meat and strain the stock to remove any bits of meat. Pour the stock back into the pot and give it a taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.
Add the vegetables, adding hard vegetables (like carrots, potatoes and turnips first) followed by softer vegetables that will take longer to cook through. If you did not use meat, add enough water to the pot to cover the vegetables in your stock, then bring water to a boil before adding the veggies, at which time you will reduce the heat to medium and cook until vegetables are soft.
I often leave the vegetables in and enjoy it as a soup, adding cuts of the meat back into the soup. But you can also strain out the veggies and enjoy those with seasoning or discard. The stock stores for about a week in the refrigerator or months in the freezer. I often freeze it in baggies or ice cube trays for quick, fresh stock throughout the year.