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As Helena food bank struggles, gardeners step up to fill a need

 Dave and Nina Krainacker harvest corn at the Jubilee Garden.
Ellis Juhlin
Yellowstone Public Radio
Dave and Nina Krainacker harvest corn at the Jubilee Garden.

Tucked behind St. Mary’s Catholic Church near the state Capitol in Helena lies the Jubilee Garden.

Dr. Dave Krainacker, and his wife, Nina, walk along a path meandering around dozens of raised beds. It’s a cornucopia of staples like corn and tomatoes, and less common produce like Japanese eggplants and honeyberries. It’s a cold-weather loving berry Dave says he brought in from Canada.

“We probably grow, just off the top of my head, say 20 different types of crops," he said. "We probably have more than that if you count the herbs, then you know, all the basics. tomatoes, beans, peas. We grow the best eggplant and garlic in Montana."

Dave Krainacker is a doctor at St. Peter’s Health specializing in the treatment of obesity. He believes in food as a kind of medicine, and started the church’s community gardening effort in 2016. And, while he and his wife enjoy some of what they grow, they donate most of it to Helena Food Share, a local nonprofit working to solve food insecurity.

The couple has turned their gardening hobbies into a way to feed their community: During the growing season the Krainackers, along with a team of volunteers, harvest anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds of produce to donate each week.

“Our goal is always that everything that we drop off should be at least as good as, if not better, than what you get from a grocery store”, Krainacker said.

 The Jubilee Garden
Ellis Juhlin
Yellowstone Public Radio
Jubilee Garden

Having a reliable source of fresh produce is vital for the food bank — now more than ever. As inflation has driven up the cost of everyday goods, the Helena Food Share has seen a drop in donations, and an increase in the number of people it serves each month, said executive director Bruce Day.

“We're definitely seeing more people, you know, coming into Helena Food Share, new to Helena FoodShare, coming to us for the first time," he said. "We're just seeing, over the last six to 12 months, a steady increase in the number of households and the number of people that are being served here.”

Since July 2021, the Food Share has provided roughly 70% more services, and the number of households it serves each month has grown by over 50%. Day says more families are feeling the squeeze of inflation, and it’s harder to afford the basics.

Stephanie Davis is a volunteer at the Food Share and also relies on the help it provides.

It’s like you go to Walmart and buy six things, you’re at 100 bucks. Everything is so increased and the shelves are not fully stocked like we're used to. Just so many things are different," she said. "And that's why it's nice to come here. They have a huge variety of stuff that they offer.”

With two hungry teens, and high prices, Davis said her normal grocery budget doesn’t cut it anymore, especially with an athletic son.

“He is a very hollow kid and he's very slim and trim but he's an eater," she said. "This is why I come here. It helps us with giving him snacks some stuff for me to, you know, prepare."

In addition to the Jubilee Garden, the Food Share receives produce from other community members from their own personal gardens.

If I can get it fresh, because I like to not have all the processed stuff," Davis said. "So I try to eliminate as much as I can. You know, being a mommy of three."

By teaming up with volunteer gardeners, Helena Food Share is able to provide fresh, local produce to families like Stephanie’s and the more than 8,000 people it serves.

And that’s the idea behind Jubilee Garden. Since David and Nina Krainacker started the garden six years ago, with just a few plots devoted to the Food Share, it's doubled in size, with over half of the raised beds growing food to donate.

“You know, over time, it just evolved to grow more and more," David Krainacker said. "What can we do for our neighbors at FoodShare who desperately need healthy food?”

“The gardeners here really take pride in being able to feed their neighbors," Nina said.

And, next to its warehouse, the Helena Food Share has planted its own garden.