Largest community garden in U.S. feeds the hungry in Denton

Ron Baselice/Staff Photographer
Volunteer Rebekah Jackson from Texas Woman’s University plants broccoli at Shiloh Field community garden. Organizers hope to raise 30,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables on the 14.5-acre plot for needy families in Denton County.

DENTON — A small group of volunteer gardeners braves any weather condition each Saturday to put food on the plate of someone who might otherwise go hungry.

Hunched over rows of tilled soil on 14.5 acres in northeast Denton, they plant fruits and vegetables at Shiloh Field Community Garden, the largest community garden in the United States.

“They feed little kids, low-income moms and dads, single parents … sometimes three meals a day,” said Gene Gumfory, master gardener and mastermind behind Shiloh Field. “And when I can carry them some green beans, corn, carrots and things like that, they probably eat better there than they do at home.”

The garden helps feed those living in poverty in Denton County, where 1 in 5 people lives at or below the federal poverty line and nearly one-third of residents do not earn a livable income.

Last year, volunteers harvested nearly 24,000 pounds of produce at Shiloh Field Community Garden. This year, they expect to harvest more than 30,000 pounds of fruit, vegetables and eggs to donate to nonprofit organizations, such as Our Daily Bread soup kitchen, crisis center Friends of the Family and child care center Fred Moore Day Nursery.

The expansive co-op community garden within Shiloh Field is designated for donation, while 152 personal 15-by-15-feet plots allow families or individuals to plant their own crops free of charge.

“We get a lot of folks that don’t know how to garden, that don’t have the money to buy seeds,” said Gumfory, 74, a successful local restaurant franchisee. “We have a lot of low-income folks that work out here, and they raise this themselves. That’s good. That’s what it’s all about.”

Gumfory, a lifelong gardener, founded Shiloh Field in 2009 after a service at Denton Bible Church planted the idea in his mind. He listened to a passage from the Bible that describes God planting a garden and putting a man in charge of it.

“For the first time — and I can’t tell you why — it meant something different,” Gumfory said of hearing the passage. “I said, ‘Hey, I can do that.’”

Denton Bible Church owns the land Shiloh Field sits on, but the garden operates entirely on donations of money and supplies.

Greg Scott started volunteering at Shiloh Field in January when he was connected to the garden through a branch of Denton Bible Church that assists people who are in poverty or homeless.

Five years ago, the recession doomed Scott’s landscaping business and uprooted his upper-middle-class lifestyle. He found himself camping among trees, drinking heavily and contemplating suicide.

“I had it all, and I lost it all,” said Scott, who has a degree in landscaping and horticulture.

Now, Scott has found a place of his own and shares his gardening expertise with many of the 10 to 40 volunteers working in the co-op garden on Saturdays. He knows his efforts are going toward giving back to the community.

One of the nonprofits that receives fresh fruits and vegetables from Shiloh Field is Fred Moore Day Nursery, the only income-based child care center in Denton that cares for children younger than 2.

Office manager Lynda West says the donated produce from Shiloh Field saves the nursery a considerable amount of money on food. The staff also uses the vegetables to teach the kids about making healthy food choices.

“I think it’s just phenomenal,” West says. “I think it’s an amazing thing for the community to have something like that.”

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