The Giving Gardener

Growing up in rural Ark., Marc Baker was no stranger to gardening. It is something he did with both his father and his grandparents, and it is a passion that has followed him into adulthood. He has been very serious about gardening ever since he moved to Texas more than 30 years ago, but it has only been within the last year or so that Mr. Baker has found an even greater purpose for his produce — donating some of the surplus to Frisco Family Services. 

“When I moved to Frisco, I was remodeling my house and the first thing I did was rip out the back deck to make room for a garden,” Mr. Baker says. “Luckily, my neighborhood does not have a homeowner’s association, so I was able to really do with it what I wanted.”

Mr. Baker’s garden is about 10×20 feet and takes up approximately half of his yard. He enjoys as much of the freshly-grown food as he can, but grows much more than he and his wife could ever need. He never wants to waste a scrap of fresh food. “I used to give my surplus to a lot of people at my office, but, unfortunately, I was laid off last year, so I had a lot of extra produce on my hands that I had nothing to do with,” Mr. Baker explains. “Then, I thought about Frisco Family Services and I figured they would enjoy the fresh food even more than me or my old co-workers, so I started donating to them about eight months ago.” 

Frisco Family Services has been serving the Frisco community by helping to fight poverty, hunger and homelessness since its inception in 1994. While the organization can purchase food for their services, they heavily rely on the community and receive about 90 percent of their food through donations.

Ronny Hill, a representative of Frisco Family Services, says, “It is with the help of people like Mr. Baker that we are able to provide help to our community. We are always grateful for a donation to the food pantry, no matter the size.”

The Frisco Family Services Food Pantry is the most used service of the organization and has provided more than 450,000 meals to nearly 3,500 people across the community. (Anyone interested in donating or volunteering with the organization can find out more at friscofamilyservices.org). 

Over the last eight months, Mr. Baker has been able to donate surpluses about five or six times, depending on the time of year. In the winter, he grows onions, potatoes and beets, so it is a bit of a lighter load in the colder months. But, come spring, he will put in tomatoes and pepper plants such as banana, poblano, bell, jalapenos, etc. He estimates he has about eight tomato plants and between 16 and 20 pepper plants. Then, in late spring/early summer, he will put in black-eyed peas, okra, asparagus and maybe some oregano. He mostly tries to select plants that will “keep on giving,” as he puts it. “Personally, I try to eat as fresh as possible. I cannot tell you how nice it is to be able to walk into your backyard on a Saturday morning and pick fresh peppers and onions to put in an omelet, or to grab some okra to fry for a summer barbecue or even just having fresh tomatoes to dress-up a salad,” Mr. Baker explains. “I can attest that you truly can taste the difference between fresh produce and store-bought.”

As soon as he picks from his garden, he tries to cook the food or donate it that day or the day after, at the latest, so it stays as fresh as possible. That is where it can be hard for commercial grocery stores to compete with home-grown produce. When stores are importing fruits and vegetables from places like Mexico or South Texas, there will always be a window of time in storage from the moment it is picked to the time it is actually eaten. For example, the average storage time for an apple in the U.S. is between six and 12 months. They are kept in cold storage with wax seals to prevent them from going bad before they are finally dispersed to supermarkets. Similarly, tomatoes have been successfully kept in storage in the U.S. for up to six weeks before going out for sale. 

“While it is still perfectly safe to eat grocery store produce, it frankly just does not taste as good to me,” Mr. Baker says. “I can really tell a difference in my potatoes, especially. Fresh potatoes are always more firm than those that have been sitting around in a warehouse for months, waiting to be sold.”

While Mr. Baker thoroughly enjoys gardening, he explains it is no easy task. He estimates he spends between seven and 10 hours a week outside tending to his garden. Additionally, he says about two or three times a year he devotes a couple hours a day to just pulling out weeds in the garden. “Occasionally, I will get mice or rats lurking around in my backyard, so I try to be diligent about setting traps and keeping an eye on things. I will say, we have a nice neighborhood cat who helps me control the rodent population around my garden,” Mr. Bakers says with a chuckle. 

Since joining the Frisco community 14 years ago, Mr. Baker has really enjoyed being able to use his love for gardening as a way to not only get more involved in the community, but also to personally help out those in need around him. “Gardening has just always been a part of my life. My parents, their siblings, my grandparents, everyone did it,” Mr. Baker says. “And while it may have somewhat decreased in popularity over the last 50 years, it is just something I cannot imagine not doing. If I am able to do it and help people at the same time, that just makes it even better.”

Rachel Beaird is a recent University of Arkansas graduate, travel enthusiast and a public relations aficionado.