Mary Ellen Hurley said she is in the right place at the right time.
Working between raised beds at the Lihue United Church garden, Hurley, who just received her degree in rural environmental sociology from Oregon State University through its ecampus program, looks over the small garden that produces food to feed needy families.
“This garden helps feed people through the Loaves and Fishes food pantry program at the St. Michael’s All Angels Episcopal Church,” Hurley said. “With the new layout of raised beds utilizing both square foot gardening and companion planting concepts, the garden is capable of feeding double of what it’s doing right now.”
The Loaves and Fishes program at the St. Michaels and All Angels Episcopal Church is the beneficiary of this year’s annual Labor Day Breakfast, which will be served by the Lihue United Church on Sept. 2 from 7 to 10 a.m., said Janie Crane of the Lihue United Church.
Donation is $6 for adults and children 12 years and older. Children from 5 to 11 years old are $4 with children under 4 years old are admitted free.
On tap is a menu of scrambled eggs, sausage, rice, coffee cake and pastries, many created by the church’s parishioners. Fresh fruit, coffee and juice round out the menu selection, which are spiced up by a variety of performing artists offering entertainment during the breakfast.
Tickets are available at the church office by calling 245-6253.
Last year, the breakfast served nearly 400 meals, and it also benefited the Loaves and Fishes program.
“Kauai has a major food insecurity crisis,” Hurley told members of her online degree program. “The cost of food delivered from the Mainland is too expensive for many families to afford, and the community garden at the Lihue United Church helps the island’s underserved residents create a more self-sustainable environment, providing fresh vegetables and teaching locals how to grow the food themselves.”
Hurley said using the square foot gardening concept, a small plot can feed an entire family.
Starting in May, Hurley and her boyfriend Mike Tuel started re-doing the garden, which formerly featured row gardening into the raised bed concept utilizing drip irrigation for more efficient water delivery.
Work started after Hurley succeeded Cobb as the garden coordinator after Cobb moved to the Mainland, receiving the help of the Fos Foundation of Seattle to help with the expense of the garden transition.
“Volunteering is a wonderful thing,” Hurley said. “Between Mike and myself, we created a lot of the beds. As more beds were developed, we could actually harvest from the first ones while others were being built.”
Wednesday, Hurley got help from Tabitha Kauakahi, a student at Kauai High School, who spent a few hours harvesting before going to school, and Thatcher Magoun, a member of the Lihue United Church.
“We got Tabitha from a youth program, and she loved it so much she keeps coming back,” Hurley said. “We can always use volunteers to help with the garden. People can call the church office at 245-6253 to make arrangements.”
In addition to the problems faced with garden pests, costs of materials used for the raised beds became a hurdle.
“We would like to have corporate sponsorships for the beds,” Hurley said. “A sponsorship of $3,000 for a year for each bed would enable a lot of families to be fed.”
Although the proceeds from the Labor Day breakfast benefits the Loaves and Fishes food pantry program, Hurley said the community garden needs to be self-sufficient.
Utilizing concepts from companion planting, Hurley said the garden is relatively pest-free and attracts honeybees. Her biggest enemies are ants and aphids, which she uses neem to control.
“This is totally organic,” she said. “Once a month, we feed fish emulsion through the drip system for fertilizer, and as you can see, the plants are thriving.”
Among her stable crops are leafy vegetables like lettuce, various mustards and cabbages, okra, chard, peppers and beans. She pointed out how the okra acts as a natural greenhouse, lettuce being planted under the okra’s spreading leaves and shaded from the hot sun.
“We have some herbs planted in between and eventually we want to be able to offer herbs to families as well,” she said. “My long-range vision for this is to turn it into a learning garden.”
Along the fenceline, which she says she wants to raise to keep the chickens out, a row of raised planter boxes await the elderly and disabled who have a hard time bending.
“These are the right height for people with disabilities,” Hurley said, her finger tracing the planned path for the elderly and disabled people. “They can work out of wheelchairs. Now, what we need is someone to help create the concrete pathways, which will enable them to come to the garden.”
• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.