In the war on hunger, Donna Stumphf must be a five-star general.

She is on a mission to enlist an army of volunteers to grow and provide vegetables for families in need this summer.

Last summer, she grew and harvested, with the help of volunteers, more than 3,000 pounds of vegetables, which she donated to local food pantries and Northlands Rescue Mission.

This year, her goal is 6,000 pounds of produce.

All Seasons and Grand Forks have donated land on the west and north ends of town for garden plots that total about 4,800 square feet. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, cabbage, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables have been planted.

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“The chef at the Mission said onions are among the most requested items,” said Stumphf, adding that a good share of space is devoted to them.

East Grand Forks recently offered 29 acres on a strip of land in a northwestern area of town.

“It’s about 70 yards by a mile,” said Adam Sorum, healthy living director at the Altru Family YMCA. “We’re not sure how much we’ll utilize this year."

It may be more than their gardener-volunteers can handle, he conceded.

Stumphf, who describes Sorum as her "partner in crime," is looking for a benevolent farmer or two who would be willing to plant corn or potatoes on the land.

“It’s a whale of a gift,” Stumphf said.

It came about after she left a message for David Murphy, East Grand Forks’ city administrator, on May 31. On Monday morning, he called her with an invitation to take a look at the land.

She did. And she jumped on the opportunity.

“He said you can use as much of it as you want,” she said. “I’m still in shock.”

Paul Sproule, of Sproule Farms in Grand Forks, already has donated corn seed for the plot, she said.

Engaging the YMCA

Stumphf, 68, has teamed up with Sorum to engage anyone who’s interested in gardening, eating healthier foods and ending hunger in the community.

“Sometimes you don’t see it, but there’s a lot of hunger in this community,” Sorum said.

Stumphf, too, saw evidence of food insecurity this spring when she visited local food pantries.

“The need is bigger than I thought,” she said.

Families are limited in the amount of food they may receive and in the number of times they may receive it.

“No one pantry can give them enough to feed them,” she said.

Stumphf and Sorum plan to give most of the produce to Northlands Rescue Mission and St. Joseph’s Social Care, Hope Covenant and East Grand Forks food pantries.

Sorum has included the YMCA in this effort. He has started the Garden Group to involve residents in growing vegetables and to promote a healthy and active lifestyle.

“The Y is helping with hands and seeds. A lot of expenses are coming out of her own pocket," Sorum said of Stumphf.

Members of the Garden Group, who don’t have to be YMCA members, will assist with planting, weeding, watering and harvesting vegetables and will receive a portion of the produce.

“At the Y, we want to learn from this project and spread it around the area,” Sorum said. “With even a 20-yard strip of land, we could really feed a lot of people.”

Seasons of giving

Stumphf began giving vegetables to charitable organizations in late summer 2017 when she noticed abandoned produce in a community garden where she had a plot.

“There were all these vegetables left out there. I thought, this is a waste that should not happen," said Stumphf, who gave the harvest to Northlands Rescue Mission.

“And it just started building,” she said.

Last year, All Seasons partnered with her in her campaign by giving her a larger area to garden.

“I cannot say enough wonderful things about the All Seasons family, the Heitmanns,” Stumphf said. “They care about this community. They care about this concept of growing vegetables and living a healthier lifestyle.”

This year, Stumphf has focused on engaging “anyone who’s in the business of growing or providing food and those who are in nutrition education and may be aware of children who might need food."

She’s assembling a hunger coalition of food pantries, public health department and NDSU Extension offices, faith groups, Altru Health System, United Way, UND, Northland Community and Technical College, restaurants, grocery stores and farmers.

“We are trying to connect and become a community in the real sense of the word,” she said. “We’re looking out for each other -- sharing vegetables, recipes and seeds.”

Farm background

Stumphf’s passion for gardening and others’ well-being is rooted in her upbringing on a Tennessee farm, she said.

“Both my grandfathers were farmers," she said of her family members who grew cotton, soybeans, peas, potatoes and corn. “There was a spot down by a stream where we grew watermelon and cantaloupe. They did well in the sandy soil.”

Like most farm kids, she and her siblings were put to work.

“Our job was to knock the potato beetles off the plants,” she said.

These days, Stumphf sees the public’s growing interest in gardening through a wider lens.

“I think there’s a movement in this country to get back to our 1800s prairie backgrounds and get in touch with the earth again,” she said. “There are no negatives about gardening. It’s all a plus.”

Her ideas for future growth are popping up faster than green beans after a gentle rain.

“I want to get gardens all over Grand Forks,” she said. “There’s so much that we can do with this program.”

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YMCA Garden Group

Membership includes monthly cooking classes, with recipe demonstrations and tips on healthy eating. Members who help tend community vegetable gardens receive a portion of the produce.

Fees

Single: $30

Couple: $45

Family: $60

Membership in the YMCA is not required to join this group.

To register or for more information, call Adam Sorum, healthy living director, YMCA, 701-775-2586.