Kari and the Produce Factory

With the recent death of Gene Wilder, the world is buzzing about Wider’s portrayal in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.   Wilder played Willy Wonka, owner of a magical candy factory which supplied the world with mysterious candy inventions like Everlasting Gobstoppers and Edible Wallpaper. And by the end of the story, our hero Charlie inherits the factory and all its secrets.

For many young children, this would be a dream in and of itself. But Charlie’s integrity earned him, his parents and grandparents a literal Golden Ticket out of poverty.

Although I know of no magic chocolate factories, there is a small miracle already available to opportunistic folks wanting to eat delicious free foods. The formula is somewhat simple, but you’ll need some key players to make it work.DSC_0108

Who is Willy Wonka?

You need an excellent organizer.

Meet Kari Davelaar- the inspiration behind her church’s Produce Table. Serving as Director of Health Ministry and Community Care through First Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, SD, her job is extensive.  She provides health education, assists with transitional care post-hospitalization, runs health screenings and integrates spiritual and physical health for the congregation’s members. After three years serving as a Faith Community Nurse, she birthed The Produce Table as a way to encourage members to share their garden bumper crops with others who might not have a chance to grow their own.

Who Are The Oompa-Loompas?

You need a team of helpers.

Those of you not familiar with Charlie or his Chocolate Factory, Oompa-Loompas are the anonymous workers who make Wonka’s inventions a reality. Like the hardworking folks in the story, several families contribute bumper crops to the Produce Table, without asking for credit or thanks.

One couple worthy of highlighting, supplies over half the produce table’s food!

Mark and Nancy are very modest people but their contribution can not be overstated. Their planting from seed, weeding, harvesting and transporting has supplied dozens of families food they would otherwise need to purchase. This is especially impressive considering they garden as a hobby and they have day jobs in town!

Four years ago Nancy told Mark they couldn’t possibly consume all the food they grew and asked Mark to seriously consider downsizing the garden. That was until Davelaar invited the congregation to donate extra produce at the Produce Table. Now, over half the produce from the Produce Table is from Mark and Nancy’s Farm and the rest is supplied from more modest gardeners!

Do You Need a Golden Ticket?

You don’t need a special invitation for admittance, but this table is popular!

Only minutes after being excused from the church service, large lines had already formed and mass quantities of produce had already been gleaned from the tables. People of all ages love The Produce Table, but those who grew up gardening, and now with age find it difficult, densely populate the line.

I’ll admit I was questioning their physical abilities given their quick-footedness at the end of the service. Are you sure you’re not able-bodied enough to keep your own garden? You’re looking pretty fit to me!

Where Can I Find Snozzberries?

Your table will have unexpected surprises

Some take one tomato or a wedge of catelope. Others explore unrecognized foods and ask about recipes. Mark remembers bringing a summer squash to the Produce Table with quizzical faces. He shared the name and instructions how to prepare it. The next week the same individual came to the table sharing the same information with another member of the congregation. Others requested new vegetables to grow. Mark and Nancy never would have considered kale to grow and now enjoying themselves!

Foods not bagged and brought home are donated to the Feeding South Dakota Plant a Row Program. But The Davelaars admit, little is left to donate Monday morning.

And isn’t that the point?  We are all in need of fresh local produce. We all want to know who grow our food and further connect with neighbors and members of our church. We all want our kids to be familiar with fresh fruits and veggies and come to love them. We want to prevent and preserve the health we have.

Saddly, gardening still takes hard work to plan, weed, harvest and prepare, but I wouldn’t trade those life lessons for an Everlasting Gobstopper nor Edible Walpaper. And as much as I love chocolate, I love locally produced fish tacos, salsa and raspberry jam even more!

Consider starting a Produce Table at your work, neighborhood or place of worship. Just get your cast of characters together and get started on a Roald Dahl worthy adventure! As always, we welcome seeing your photos and hearing your stories.


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