One of the most satisfying vegetables to grow, radishes are ready to harvest within three weeks of planting. They are also a very good source of vitamin C helping to rebuild tissues and blood vessels, and keeping bones and teeth strong. And this is how the Spokane Radish Tikkun Olam project started.
Congregation Emanu-el, Spokane, Washington's Reform community's Tikkun Olam committee was looking for a project. It had to be something that would create a positive impact in Spokane, something that could be done in a few hours one day, something that families with small children and elderly members could participate in ... gardening.
Thousands of people in Spokane are hungry for fresh nutritious food. Hunger and a lack of nutritional food contribute to obesity and diabetes. In 2007, 1 in 10 Spokane County adults cut or skipped a meal because they did not have money to buy food. Among these adults, 41% acknowledged that this occurred every month. (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2007).
Large areas of Spokane are considered food deserts, areas where people live more than 1/2 mile from a grocery store where they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. (USDA, Access to Affordable & Nutritious Food: Measuring & Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences, 2009).
The need is clear but what to offer?
Radishes are a natural choice because they are so fast and easy to grow. And so we decided on two boxes of dirt and plants. It starts by recycling liquor boxes, which are sturdy and plentiful. Filling them with dirt from the store bought with donated money, llama manure and composted wood chips donated by volunteers. Into one box goes radish seeds and two sunchoke bulbs (Jerusalem artichokes, which my father says are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes). I grew them all last summer and left them in the ground till April 30, when we dug them up and replanted them for Spokane families.
Many people have never heard of sunchokes but at one time that was also true of potatoes.
In the 1600's the Russian Orthodox Church banned potatoes simply because they were not mentioned in the Bible. A particular fan of the potato, King Frederick II of Prussia, fed them to his troops. However, when he offered them to his subjects during the 1774 famine, they refused this relatively unknown food from South America. Frederick's new approach was to declare the potato a royal vegetable and place guards around royal potato fields. Before long, there was a huge underground market in potatoes and everyone started growing them.
Today, the relatively unknown, Sunchoke or Jerusalem Artichoke has the potential to feed many people in a nutritious way.
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