Posted on: August 26, 2015 | Written By: Doug Oster |
I’m not sure what year I first paid one of my kids $20 to dress like a tomato for a gardening event. It’s really just a pumpkin costume spray-painted red, but it’s pretty convincing. For the past several years, my daughter, who raised the rate to $25, has happily worn the outfit at Red, Ripe and Roasted, the tomato and garlic festival at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This year’s festival runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 30 and is free. You can’t miss her, as she’ll be posing for pictures and walking the grounds.
It’s an event I helped start as a way to collect fresh produce from gardeners to help feed the less fortunate. As one of the local liaisons for Plant a Row for the Hungry, a program from the national Garden Writers Association, I found this to been one of the best ways to collect fresh food from gardeners. Last year, over a ton of produce was donated at the festival to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, who will have a truck onsite to store the collected food.
Although the festival is free, anyone who brings a bag of produce also gets into the conservatory at no charge to see the Summer Flower Show.
“Donations of produce get directly into the hands of people who need them through the (food bank’s) Produce to People program,” says Jordyn Melino, exhibit coordinator at Phipps. “Fresh food is important. It’s something that is a real treat to people who are used to receiving nonperishables.”
She’s organized the festival for the past seven of the event’s 11-year run. Over that time, the festival has generated 14,555 pounds for the food bank.
“We have our tomato contest every year, which is a lot of fun,” she says. “We have the largest, smallest and ugliest ripe tomatoes. They need to be homegrown.” Melino encourages entrants to bring in their tomatoes by offering a chance to win a membership to the conservatory.
Vendors will have lots of local goods for sale, too, nongardeners can purchase produce and donate to the cause or even bring something from a grocery store.
For anyone interested in growing garlic, Enon Valley Garlic Co. will have a wide selection of seed garlic for sale. Garlic is usually planted in October and harvested the next July.
Roasted garlic will be served for free all day, and a variety of dishes will be cooked during demonstrations. I’ll be making Garlic Lovers Sliders with Garlic Aioli at noon — and will offer breath mints to those who need them.
Chatham University’s Food Studies Program will be serving Fried Green Tomatoes.
Make your own tomato juice with CitiPark’s bike-powered blenders. Three bikes of various sizes will allow anyone to pedal their way to a tasty drink.
“It’s a great time to celebrate the harvest of your garden, farmers’ gardens and to come eat lots of fresh, delicious things,” Melino says. “If you spot the ‘tomato,’ ask for a high five,” she says laughing.
Jess Sharrard, food-safety and nutrition manager for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, knows his clients appreciate fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden.
“They’re the healthiest choice for everybody,” he says. “Unfortunately, not everybody has the space or availability to grow their own.”
The food bank serves a wide range of people including seniors, children and the working poor. “A sizable portion of our clients are working at least one full-time job,” he says. “It’s often tough for even working families to make ends meet.”
The food bank has been working on increasing the percentage of fresh food given to clients. Nearly a quarter of what’s supplied now is fresh, with a goal in the next several years to raise that to 50 percent.
Sharrard knows that people who visit Red, Ripe and Roasted can help add to the total.
“When gardeners have bumper crops and are able to share,” he says, “it helps everybody to enjoy the season’s harvest.”
Doug Oster is the Home and Garden Editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-965-3278 or firstname.lastname@example.org