Growing produce to give away
By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- A farmer's work is never done, but helping feed the hungry is Joel Bray's calling, so he finds great joy in planting, weeding and harvesting.
Mr. Bray is the manager and founder of Shining Light Garden and its nonprofit foundation in Vero Beach, and the garden's mission is to feed the hungry.
In the garden last week, tomato vines had begun creeping from the soil toward the sky. Elsewhere on the property onions were bring washed and prepared for delivery by faithful volunteers, while others drove tractors churning up land where peas will soon be planted.
Since 2010, 11,000 bushels of produce has been given away to the hungry, Mr. Bray said.
Springtime flowers in purples, pinks and blues dominated the flower gardens, the bushes waiting to be plucked and cut flowers delivered to patients at the Visiting Nurses Association Hospice House.
"The flowers are new to me, but they love receiving them at the hospice house," Mr. Bray said.
Shining Light Garden Foundation recently received a $100,000 grant from Impact 100 which will help grow the garden's acreage and help cover equipment costs, Mr. Bray said.
According to a press release from Impact 100, the current level of poverty in Indian River County is 13.9 percent. For those younger than 18, the level of poverty is 23 percent.
A number of local nonprofit organizations receive bushels of produce from the garden to help feed clients throughout the year, including the Hibiscus Children's Center, various local food pantries, Camp Haven and the Gifford Youth Activity Center, some with representatives that pick up produce weekly, Mr. Bray said.
"The need is so great," he said.
In 2008, Mr. Bray began growing produce in his own backyard garden and gave away much of the harvest to homebound seniors, the homeless and hungry.
"I don't think there should be a hunger issue, we have so much land to grow food and share, if you're prepared to work and sweat a little," he said.
In 2010, he acquired permission to use his aunt's 10-acre property to expand the garden ministry and soon after, he was asked to incorporate an adjoining 10-acre property in the effort.
"This truly is a God thing. I'm here six days a week, I don't get a paycheck, but when we have a need, it's always met," Mr. Bray said.
The Shining Light Garden is not open to the public for produce pickup, but tours for interested volunteers or donors can be pre-arranged.
"There's always work to do on a farm. Volunteers can help plant, harvest, wash weed, there's always something to do," Mr. Bray said.
The garden ministry has allowed Mr. Bray to meet many people from the state and the country, some interested in the garden as a model, others who want to help the community in a tangible way.
"I've met so many people who come here and just fall in love with it. They've never worked in a garden or a farm before," Mr. Bray said.
"To me, it's a win-win, we get to grow things, improve the land and we get to give it all away to people," he said.
For more information about Shining Light Garden Foundation, visit www.shininglightgardenfoundation.com or www.facebook.com/shininglightgarden. For more information about volunteer or donation opportunities, contact Mr. Bray at (772) 539-3752.