By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor
Harvest of the Heart (HOH) Garden, a local nonprofit aiming to grow, preserve, and distribute healthy, fresh foods to needy families, has announced its closing. HOH Chairman Stratton Hicky was saddened by the decision, but believes it is no longer feasible for HOH to continue. “It’s sad and disappointing, but when we looked at our finances, we had to make the hard decision to terminate operations. After about eight years of service to the community, under the leadership of founder Jewel Hatcher, HOH began to suffer when Hatcher retired in 2015. “That was the beginning of the end,” said Hicky. “She was the heart and soul of this organization. She was literally everything.” Hatcher ran the organization as a volunteer and recruited other volunteers to help. As HOH grew, the nonprofit expanded its vision to embody four areas of need in the community. According to Hicky, the primary goal was always to grow local fresh produce and distribute it to those in need. Then HOH added an educational component to its services, aiming to education both local adults and youth in the areas of nutrition, gardening, and preservation of foods through canning. HOH began canning some of the food grown during warmer seasons in order to have food to distribute to those in need during the winter months. HOH even setup a cannery in the Gilmore House through a lease with the City of Madison. HOH also collected local excess fresh produce and packaged foods from farmers and outlets with surpluses to distribute to those in need, in addition to growing food themselves. However, when Hatcher retired, HOH needed to hire a director to take over. “We had never had to sustain a paid position before,” said Hicky, who also noted volunteer numbers dwindled after Hatcher’s departure.
“We just couldn’t keep a consistent group of volunteers and once we started to pay a director, we were saw our costs going beyond our donations.” As a result HOH was forced to scale back their services. “By the end, we weren’t really growing our own food, which means we didn’t have any food to preserve. We were collecting excess food supplies from donors. We were pretty much duplicating what the Caring Place already does for the community. We didn’t feel right about competing with other local nonprofits who essentially do the same thing,” explained Hicky. HOH conducted their last food distribution in December. “It was hard, a lot of people were disappointed.” In the next four months, HOH will dissolve its assets and whatever is left over will be donated to local nonprofits that engage in similar work. “We think that’s the best thing we can do with whatever we have left,” said Hicky.