The huge vegetable on the Ohio Street porch looked like a cross between a cactus and a pineapple.
It was a kohlrabi — a spiny member of the cabbage family — and part of the Faith Feeds vegetable haul being distributed along the street Saturday afternoon. The vegetables, delivered from the leftovers at a south Lexington farmers' market, are set out in the mid-afternoon each Saturday at the house of Tanya Torp.
That Saturday's collection included potatoes, okra, squash, eggplant and a tomato that looked just like an enormous fire-engine red heart.
For Launices Chesnut, 77, the vegetables are a special treat. Confined to a wheelchair, she receives only $16 a month in food stamps. The green beans, potatoes, corn and tomatoes supplement her sometimes meager diet.
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Chesnut is retired, but at one time she worked three jobs to put her children through college. At that time, she would arrive home at 11 p.m. and be back at work at 7 a.m.
When did she sleep?
"Well," she said. "I can sleep now."
Faith Feeds neighborhood organizer Tanya Torp has become a special friend of Chesnut's, setting aside produce for her each Saturday.
Around 2:30 p.m., about 10 to 12 neighbors start to gather on Torp's front yard. It's like attending a block party where everyone wins fresh produce. One neighbor brings the cookbook, Treasury of Country Recipes, to look over a produce recipe with Torp.
A neighborhood pie workshop is coming up in the next month. Torp would like to have a larger neighborhood kitchen available for demonstrations and cooking classes.
While it's great to be able to take advantage of the generosity of farmers markets and farm leftovers, Torp wants to build an active community in which residents get to know their neighbors better as they bond over produce, and share recipes. Sometimes that happens one tomato at a time.
"Everyone here works," Chesnut said. "But we can't afford organics in our neighborhood."
The closest store sells only items such as Slush Puppies, cigarettes, soda and barbecue sandwiches, she said.
The Faith Feeds non-profit project started in 2010, and organizers John Walker, Erica Horn and Jennifer Erena, who helped get the project off the ground, have been amazed at how it has flourished.
The effort takes a network of volunteers to "glean" and distribute produce to neighborhoods where it is needed, farmers and farmers' markets that are willing to donate leftovers and neighborhood captains like Torp who help distribute the produce and build communities.
The farms that donate excess produce are more likely to be concerned about alleviating hunger than they are making a profit off their extra produce.
"I think there's a lot of people like that," she said. "We don't know how to get to them."
Jennifer Erena points out that Lexington, particularly in some of its eastern and northern neighborhoods, has "food deserts" where residents, particularly those without cars, have to go a long way to get to a store that sells fresh produce.
In the East End, for example, the closest store for many is the Save-A-Lot at Eastland Shopping Center, which is about two miles away.
The snag in the equation is that when fresh produce needs to be harvested and distributed, it needs volunteers who have flexible schedules. On the other hand, picking apples from the ground is great exercise, rather yoga-like, according to the band of volunteers who do it.
To check for volunteer opportunities, visit the organization's Web site at Faithfeedslex.org
Volunteering can include anything from "gleaning" produce to transporting via truck — but it all goes toward building healthier diets and neighborhoods.
"We want to move to healthy things, but we want it to be congenial," Torp said. "It's us together deciding what we want in our community," Torp said. "I'm about an empowerment model."