The Planting Partnership sprung up in April of 1998 from local farmer Eric Freeland’s resolution. He wanted to utilize the talents he acquired throughout the years and make his vision of growing food for the homeless and less privileged a reality. When physical injury prevented him from tending the farm he operated for years, the desire to help others led him into a partnership with the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, WV. The partnership yielded a donation of 2,000 pounds of produce to the Soup Kitchen. The Planting Partnership turned out to be a shining example of what can result from the combined efforts of community and business.
Volunteers for Planting Partnership came from area businesses and church groups all over the Ohio Valley and joined the Soup Kitchen staff to work in the fields. Community businesses donated all of the supplies necessary to till the field and grow a bounty of crops. Volunteers tilled, planted and plowed the two-acre farm twice a week. A youth services group also contributed manpower to the effort on Tuesday mornings.
Throughout the summer of 1998, the farming continued in full force. Freeland often encouraged the volunteers to take home goods for their families to provide an incentive for those who had toiled all day in the sun. During the course of the growing season, the Planting Partnership drew nearly 60 volunteers, each working an average of three hours per week. When the crops were mature enough for harvesting, volunteers picked the produce for transport to the Soup Kitchen, a portion of which is frozen for later use.
At the conclusion of the harvesting season, the Planting Partnership was pleased to find that it had grown many usable crops such as tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes and green beans. This food fed the more than 200 people who come into the Soup Kitchen and gave the Soup Kitchen staff the ability to distribute 25% of the food amongst the 15 other agencies that use the facility as a collection point.
Due to the generosity of Freeland and the foresight of its staff, the Soup Kitchen gained a new sense of independence and saved money in overall food costs. The success of the first crop has many participants in the Planting Partnership excited about the prospect of producing even more food in 1999, and Freeland is also working with the Veterans Outreach and the Easter Seals Rehabilitation to extend the outreach of the program. The generosity of many fed a hungry few in 1998 and the dedication of those same people promises to feed many more in years to come.