News, People  |  December 14th, 2013

Urban Farming Philanthropy

Meet Chuck Campbell and an exciting seven-year plus story that has produced some amazing results.  In some form, every man has a hobby, but as you’ll see in Chuck’s case his passion drove him toward a creative, community solution that simply needs to be celebrated.

Chuck is an engineer by training, but an heirloom tomato aficionado by choice. He credits his brother-in-law, Doug Carlsen, for getting him hooked on all the attributes of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes generally aren’t compact, tidy, bush style plants. In fact, once you have 12-15 plants in the backyard and an additional 6 on the deck there’s a strong chance that space will be at a premium. Chuck admits (and Janet his wife concurs) that when he pours his heart into something… there’s a chance the project can get a bit carried away.

One days harvest at home time to buy bacon

One day’s harvest at home – time for some BLTs.

Unable to convince relatives that they should be supportive and plant more tomatoes on their properties and share in his compulsion, Chuck stumbled across a break through solution. From a little online research he learned about the Portland Food Bank, and their onsite urban garden. The community members who benefited from the Food Bank in turn worked the garden to add fresh produce to the donations. This article “planted” the idea for what would become Chuck’s seven-year adventure, creating and maintaining a 72 ft. by 78 ft. urban farm in the heart of Omaha.

Through a friend in real estate, Chuck found the “holy ground” he was searching for- literally. A barren plot from the demolition of two brick houses at 30th and St. Mary’s surfaced. The land, owned by St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, became the planting ground for the Community Garden. After the land was secured and blessed by the priest an uncanny domino effect of activity fell into place. Acreage Fence Company surfaced and generously offered fencing at cost for the garden. Turf Specialists had just up-graded an irrigation system and needed to re-purpose some drip irrigation that may have otherwise been discarded.

Kinghorn Tilling

Kinghorn Gardens tilling the soil.

Ready to plant

Ready for planting!

Finished planting

Finished planting.

With all but one minor glitch, the garden started to come together. One might think that gardening on blessed ground, to make charitable donations to a food bank would be an anointed “walk in the park”, but such was not the case. Remember the previous part about the real estate being made available from the demo of two brick houses.  Well… the left over bricks did not agree with an offering of a power auger to drill the holes for the fence posts. Not to be stopped, Chuck grabbed shovel and pick ax and cleared the way for all 50 posts to be installed.

The first year of urban farming generated a lot of enthusiasm and even more questions on ways to improve the process, shorten the time commitment and boost the harvest.  In subsequent years Chuck decided to focus on simplicity and alter some of the crops in production. Now the focus is mostly on tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers with a touch on trying new things along the way.

Peaking out in mid August

One thing for sure, Chuck is committed to a harvest. From battling stink bugs & blister beetles to crawling through 9 ft. tomato plants on search and destroy missions for tomato hornworms. One unexpected element required some redirection from Chuck.  Some of the neighborhood kids didn’t fully realize how important this effort was to Mr. Campbell and had a little tomato fight. With wisdom, and mid-western commonsense, he supplied them with soccer goals and various other play opportunities to channel their energies in productive ways. This helped reduce surprises and assure a steadfast, summertime delivery schedule of fresh produce to the Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church Food Pantry.

squashHal Gillaspie

Healthy Squash Plants tended by retired pastor Hal Gillaspietomato1

Now after seven years of working the land, Chuck with the help of expert pickers, retired pastor Hal Gillaspie and Carolyn Seeley, this quiet and unassuming Community Garden effort has donated 27,000 pounds of fresh produce to the Omaha Community. How do we know this number?  Well, Chuck still reverts back to that engineer training and every worthwhile effort needs metrics. Even we didn’t know until this week that a grocery sack filled with produce weighs right around 17 pounds. Conservatively, they’ve delivered 1,588 brown, paper grocery sacks full of veggies to the pantry. Now that’s a whole lot of vitamins and minerals freely given for the benefit of others.

Tropical rain forest in Omaha

A tomato jungle in the heart of Omaha!

All of us at Kinghorn Gardens are privileged and humbled to be a small part of this wonderful effort. From tilling the garden, to answering calls on insect and disease issues to season end wrap up activity. We thank the entire Campbell clan for including us in this wonderful cause.

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