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MannaFest features ‘Art in the Garden’

Manna Meal representatives have named an upcoming event in honor of their fourth successful year of operating a community garden.

This year's MannaFest, the major fundraiser for the charitable organization, has been given the theme "Art in the Garden So the Hungry Can Eat."

About 78 pieces of art inspired by gardens will be auctioned off at the Clay Center starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, said Jean Simpson, executive director of Manna Meal. For now, the artwork is on display in the Clay Center's ticket lobby, though the auction will take place in the Great Lobby.

There is no charge for the event and local musicians will play. Light appetizers will also be served.

A wide range of art - from jewelry, paintings and pottery to photography - will be auctioned off during the event, she said.

Although this is the fifth year for MannaFest, it is the first year the theme of the art auction has been the community garden.

The plot, approximately one third of an acre, has grown significantly over the past four years, Simpson said.

Produce raised there is used at the organization's soup kitchen. Whatever is not immediately used in the kitchen, or preserved quickly, is given to those in need.

Leftover produce can be picked up at the soup kitchen at 1105 Quarrier St. in downtown Charleston between Leon Sullivan Way and Brooks Street, Simpson said.

"We started the community garden four years ago because we saw a need to raise fresh vegetables not only for our soup kitchen but to give out to people too," she said.

Food pantries typically hand out canned goods or other types of processed foods because they can easily be stored for long periods of times. Produce provided to the soup kitchen by Kroger and area farmers is also given away if it cannot be immediately used, Simpson said.

"All of our produce is used one way or the other."

Many lower-income individuals live in a "food desert" - an area where there are no supermarkets, making it difficult to purchase healthy items such as fresh produce.

There are only two locations in the East End that sell fruits and vegetables. One is HUSH, the organic health food store on Washington Street East, and The Purple Onion at Capitol Market.

"We're in the middle of a food desert in the East End," Simpson said. "There is no grocery store at all . . . People can go to a gas station or the dollar store to get milk and processed food."

That's why Simpson sees the community garden initiative as being so important.

"This is about people's health," she said.

And it's especially important in the city's East End, where there are about 6,000 people living between Leon Sullivan Way and the Capitol who are classified as being low income.

Many of those individuals also can't afford a car, making the trip to grocery stores on the West Side and in Kanawha City difficult, she said.   

This year's yield from the community garden was not as good as last because of the dry weather, but the garden still has produced about 2,500 pounds of produce so far.

Even now, fall crops like cabbage and kale continue to grow.

Last year the garden produced about 3,000 pounds of produce.

There is no water hookup close to the community garden, so volunteers must haul water from Manna Meal in downtown Charleston, Simpson said.

She hopes to have enough money raised by the next growing season to pay for a water hookup at the garden.

Manna Meal is also always in need of volunteers to help in the community garden. Anyone wishing to volunteer can contact Manna Meal at 304-345-7121.  

Contact writer Paul Fallon at or 304-348-4817. Follow him at ;  



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