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Northeast Times: Growing their credit

October 2, 2013

By John Loftus

http://bit.ly/GB6HmL

The fair weather has been kind to the tomatoes, peppers, watermelon and herbs growing next to the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union’s office on Townsend Road. There’s still some sweet corn, too.

“The girls” like the corn. On a sunny late summer day, Milly, Ginger, Nugget and Vivian gathered around Cathy Nino, the credit union’s benefits manager, when she brought them a cob to share.

The productive egg-laying Lohman Browns clucked appreciatively as they made short work of the treat.

The four hens are the newest additions to what has become a large — and award-winning — community garden started, seeded, weeded and harvested by about 100 credit union employees, said communications specialist Karen Eavis.

“It’s a wonderful team-building project,” Nino said Sept. 19.

The 150-foot-by-40-foot garden’s harvest includes cukes, zukes, Swiss chard, lettuce, melons, eggplant, flowers and, new this year, peaches. It also produces some good will. Well, actually, a lot of good will.

Employees buy the garden’s veggies and eggs, and the money then is donated to Aid for Friends, a nearby Townsend Road nonprofit that provides food to isolated homebound people. Aid for Friends also gets surplus produce, and the credit union matches the money raised by garden sales. So far, PFCU has donated more than $7,500 to the nonprofit.

“PFCU is a great neighbor,” said Aid for Friends’ executive director Steven M. Schiavone. “They always come with bags or boxes full of fresh vegetables. They even bring eggs. Most of the produce is put directly into our meals.”

The bounty from the credit union also helps the nonprofit make more meals for homebound people for less money, and those meals are more nutritious, Schiavone said, because of the fresh ingredients.

There’s another benefit for the credit union’s employees: the garden is just a pleasant place to be.

“It’s peaceful out here,” Nino said, adding there never is a shortage of volunteers to feed the hens or work in the garden.

It all started six years ago with some tomatoes and herbs, and then took off, Nino said. Every year, the credit union’s workers improve and expand the garden. This year, a peach tree went in, Nino said, and a chicken coop was built for “the girls,” who arrived in July.

“They became layers as soon as they got here,” Nino said.

This year, too, Nino entered the garden in the “urban farm” category of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Citywide Garden Contest. The PFCU garden took a second place.

Getting the soil ready for planting took some effort, Nino said. A lot of manual labor was needed to get the garden where it is today, she said.

“And,” she said, “it’s still a work in progress.”  ••

By John Loftus

Northeast Times

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