A one-fifth of an acre plot of land at Faithful Shepard Presbyterian Church, near 165th Avenue and West Center Road in Omaha, is providing nutritious produce to Omaha's food insecure. Each year, Nebraska Extension's HOPE Garden donates 4 to 5 tons of produce to a local food pantry. HOPE stands for "Helping Omaha's People Eat."
The garden is managed by master gardeners certified by extension. A crew of 20 master gardeners tends to the garden each Tuesday and Friday from March through October. On those days, Heartland Hope Mission picks up the harvested produce to immediately distribute through the food pantry.
"In 2016 we donated over 5 tons of produce to the Heartland Hope Mission and we're on track to top that amount this year," said Kathleen Cue, horticulture program coordinator with Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. "Our master gardeners have really taken ownership of this garden and that's resulted in more food for Omaha's hungry."
The church has provided all of the land and water for the garden since it began in the early 2000s. In the beginning, only tomatoes and zucchini were planted. The master gardeners sought feedback from the pantry on demand and ethnic preferences, and over the years have added specialty items such as okra and aronia berries. They've also adopted intensive gardening techniques that allow for rotating harvests.
The HOPE Garden is one of 13 gardens in the metro area managed by master gardeners. HOPE is the only garden managed exclusively for food production purposes. The others are used primarily as demonstration gardens.