When Will Carey was a chef in Brooklyn, he was concerned about all the food that went to waste. So ever since he moved to Florida in 1994, he’s been busy working to end that practice and ensure no person goes hungry.
He started as director of food services for Salvation Army, and today is the executive director and manager of operations for Tampa Bay Harvest, a group that has recovered and distributed 70 million pounds of food in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties since 1989. Last year, alone that number was 5 million pounds.
He has 200 regular grocery stores, restaurants, growers and the like donating food and 400 agencies that distribute it. If you have food left over from a wedding or party, call on him and he’ll see that your food gets to those who need it at once.
I was happy to know that Carey worked with my late friend Polly Shewfelt and her husband, Gene, with whom I often went gleaning for several years until we all got too old. It was a very rewarding and pleasant way to be useful.
Of course, I was most interested in the Tampa Bay Harvest gardens. My son Mike took me to meet Carey at the garden on Sligh Avenue in Tampa across from Lowry Park Zoo. As we pulled into the mulch-covered parking area, we saw 10 blue rain barrels and a green picket fence. Underneath the small pavilion a master electrician was working on the system from which the solar panels above supply the power for all of the garden needs. Anyone is welcome to pull in and walk around when people are there. It’s the ultimate garden, and Will was a very enthusiastic guide.
This garden was started only recently and before that happened three home foundations had to be removed from the site. It now has 22 raised beds made of cedar that are filled with rich soil, a mix of Tampa Bay Harvest’s own compost, truckloads of wood chips delivered regularly by an area tree service, ashes from the burn pit and manure from its 40 chickens and zoo animals. Bins along the far fence are constantly turning leaves, garden scraps and anything else that will de-compost into rich soil.
All of the beds and even the compost bins have automatic watering. The seedling shelves have a mist system. Carey uses donations to hire folks to build what he and his volunteers can’t do themselves, and he watches how they do it to save money the next time.
There is a bee hive with 30,000 bees to pollinate the plants and produce honey, plus several rows of sweet potatoes growing in the ground.
Behind them is a large greenhouse with a 3,500 gallon, above-ground swimming pool that’s actually a tank for 300 tilapia. The fish water goes through a filtering system and then into aquatic growing beds. One of the beds grows an algae that’s very high in protein and goes back to feed the fish. Behind the greenhouse is the burn pit and piles of wood chips.
This is one of several gardens Carey has started, and then left in the capable hands of schools and other groups to take over, though he is always available for help and encouragement. We could tell he’s an expert at working with people, giving talks and raising funds. He believes no one can grow as a person unless they help others.
Today’s pick is Swiss chard, one of the most colorful and useful vegetables. There are various cultivars. I like the most colorful ones. The leaves and chopped stems are a great addition to any salad and they can also be cooked like spinach. These plants do best for me in the earth box but many people grow them in the ground. They come through cold weather, and I even had a green one live over the summer. Just cut off the outside leaves as needed and let them keep on growing. They come quickly from seeds and will last at least until next summer.
The Town ‘n Country Garden Circle is meeting at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 3 at the Town ‘n Country Recreation Center, 6029 Hanley Road, Tampa. A luncheon will precede a Christmas program presented by past president Fran Gamester. Members and guests are asked to bring an unwrapped toy for Michelle’s Kids, who are pre-teens and teenagers. There will also be a plant exchange. For information, call Claudia LeFevre Lowry at (813) 855-8866 or Sharon Tischer Cooper at (813) 886-2015.
Also that day from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., master gardener Lynn Barber will present “Right Plant, Right Place,” at the Bloomingdale Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico. For a map and or directions, call (813) 273-3652 or visit www.hcplc.org/hcplc/locations/bdl/.