Harvest for Humanity

Denise Phillips has a lot of new ideas when it comes to gardening.

But it is an old idea that she hopes will transform how people they put food on the table.

“There is no reason that anyone in the Valley—anyone in our country, really—should not have access to healthy nutritional food,’’ says the west Chandler resident.

“We have enough land, enough talent and enough people. We have everything we need.’’

Phillips, a consultant by trade and a master gardener, believes the key to healthy nutrition is as simple as following the example set by previous generations.

Before industrialization, most Americans lived off what they produced. And with the advances made in organic gardening, Phillips believes a return to that kind of living will not only lead to a healthier life, but be a dramatic step forward in the battle to feed the hungry.

“You go to your local grocery store and you’ll see things like lettuce being trucked in from hundreds of miles away when you can grow the same lettuce in your own back yard,’’ Phillips says. “I’ve never understood that.’’

After years of perfecting her gardening techniques, Phillips has stepped into a new role as the director for the Harvest for Humanity Foundation.

Since its inception in 1991, this foundation has donated more than a million pounds of organically grown fruits and vegetables to Arizona local food banks, soup kitchens and care providers. Through volunteer efforts, more than 400,000 people are fed each year.  More than 1,000,000 meals have been fed using Harvest for Humanity’s organic produce, all from a 2½-acre garden located at Guadalupe and Elliot.

 In what can best be described as a passing of the torch, Phillips is taking over the foundation and hopes to expand the scope of the foundation far beyond its previous parameters.

Phillips envisions the a hundred or more small farms throughout the Valley producing enough food to insure that no one in the Valley need ever lack for healthy food. While Piatt confined his efforts to two crops a year – squash in the summer and turnips in the winter – Phillips hopes to produce dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables, planting and harvesting year-round.

“Our main goal is to feed those who can’t provide for themselves – the elderly, children and those who have disabilities,’’ Phillips says.

But her vision goes beyond providing meals for the needy. In fact, Phillips hopes that through programs such as Harvest for Humanity, she can help Americans take an active role in producing the food they consume.

There is an old Southern saying that if you cut your own firewood, it warms you twice. That is a philosophy Phillips embraces.

“I want Harvest for Humanity to go beyond simply providing food for the needy,’’ she says. “I want the working poor to be involved in producing their own food. I believe that everyone should be involved in that, to be honest. There are a lot of under-employed people and unemployed people in our community now. I’d love to get them involved in this, not for just the sake of the needy, but for themselves. There is something about working with the soil, growing things that empower a person. I truly believe that.’’

In addition to the plot at Guadalupe and Elliot, Phillips also hopes to open another HFHF garden on two acres at the corner of Kyrene and Guadalupe.

But if she is to be successful in her ambitious plans, Phillips knows she’ll need to attract a large and active group of volunteers to help with the 501c charity.

“Right now, we’re looking for all types of skills. We need people to help us plant and tend and harvest right now. But going forward, we’re going to need people who have an expertise in fund-raising, administrations, just about every area of expertise.’’

Of particular need are those who have free time during the week to help tend to the garden at Guadalupe/Elliot.

“We have scouting groups and other organizations who come in and help from time to time because, as a charity, the work is recognized as community service hours,’’ Phillips says. “But we also want to reach out to those who can work during the week, maybe retirees or people who are temporarily out of work.’’

No knowledge of gardening is required.

“I can teach you all you need to know,’’ Phillips says.

Information: 480-553-8744 or getgoingreen.com .

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