Sun, Jan

Mission now offers produce


As the recently established Mission Produce Market proves, there’s a lot more going on at Old Town Mission than most people think.

Changing perceptions about the limited scope of the mission — providing daily meals and food for the homeless — begins with seeing the staff in action, talking with its employees, volunteers and guests.

On the surface, the Mission Produce Market, which held its first distribution event April 18 at the mission, sounds like a confirmation of OTM’s perceived role in the community: That of distributing food.

While this is partially true — 45 families, or approximately 105 people, were represented at the inaugural market — digging under the surface will reveal more about how OTM is working with community-based partners.

A musician played for the crowd that had gathered to receive food. Local food researcher Nancy Gottschalk demonstrated how to shell pecans and described the ways in which she hopes to encourage locals to grow and share their own food.

Most importantly, perhaps — especially for those who have formed an addiction — a local troop donated its leftover Girl Scout Cookies. “The idea behind it is to create an event that’s free for the whole community,” OTM Assistant General Manager Jill Sweet said, adding that, just by the nature of donations, each produce market will offer different foods.

This time, the selection was heavy on tomatoes — “so people can make a whole lot of Italian and Mexican food,” Sweet said. The market occurs every third Tuesday of the month, through September. It may be renewed next year, when Sweet and OTM General Manager Kellie Wilson have had enough time to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.

Eventually, Sweet said, the hope is that the produce market will act as a gathering place for people who have made an investment in local produce, sharing and exchanging what they have cultivated. According to Sweet, cooking classes using some of the produce may even be organized.

“People assume we’re just feeding the homeless,” Sweet said, adding that perception is again far from reality: Only 15 percent of the 1,600 guests logged in OTM’s system are homeless. The rest represent a variety of community members, including seniors, veterans and the working poor.

Often, those who come to lunch simply want to eat in a familiar setting, among friendly faces. With any luck, Wilson said that some of those people will take part in sharing what they produce.

The Community Garden at Old Town Mission
If you’ve ever noticed the empty back lot of the Old Town Mission and wondered what use it might be put to — wonder no more. In the coming months, OTM is working with University of Arizona Cooperative Extension’s Rebecca Serratos to turn the back lot into a community garden. Serratos, who acts as program coordinator for the SNAP-Ed Arizona Nutrition Network program, is currently going through a garden readiness process with OTM. Serratos said she is developing a grant proposal through the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation to get as many fruit trees as possible next fall. She is also planning to build a raised bed garden and get it certified through the Arizona Department of Health Services. In addition, Serratos and OTM hope to invite master gardeners and local architects in for advice. Incorporating the work of local artists — including wall art and privacy wall installations — would be the final aspect of the project, according to OTM Assistant General Manager Jill Sweet. “The overall idea [is] beautification to the area and to provide space and resources to all community members,” Serratos said.

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