Valley News -

By Juliet Grossman
Special to Valley News 

Nonprofit Spotlight: Community Mission of Hope's Outreach Farm Project produces fruit

 

Last updated 8/16/2018 at 2:24am

Eva Grossman

Lora Sexton of Temecula volunteers at the Community Mission of Hope's Outreach Farm Project with her son Connor, 19, and daughter Paige, 18.

Almost every Sunday for the past six summers, volunteer Lora Sexton has wheeled her tub of kitchen supplies and aprons to the Community Mission of Hope's Outreach Farm Project farm stand located on the campus of Rancho Community Church in Temecula. Often aided by her 18-year-old daughter Paige and 19-year-old son Connor, Sexton helps supervise volunteers as they unload and arrange fruits and vegetables, trim flowers and help customers as they select produce in exchange for a donation.

"We love seeing Lora here," Karen Wilson, a Murrieta resident volunteering through the Temecula Valley Chapter of National Charity League, said. Wilson volunteered on a recent Sunday with her daughter, Aubrey, a freshman at Chaparral High School.

"My favorite part is helping the customers choose their produce, and Mrs. Sexton makes it fun," Aubrey said.

Now celebrating its 10th year, the Outreach Farm Project was the idea of Kendall Farms owner Troy Conner. In 2008, Conner, a congregant at Rancho Community Church, learned that many local food pantries were facing empty shelves. He was motivated to set aside a portion of his flower farm to grow produce to help feed local residents served by food distribution centers in the community. Today, Outreach Farm Project produce augments food bags and boxes distributed throughout the region, including Community Mission of Hope, a project of Rancho Community Church.

"Providing home grown produce is kind of like giving people homemade bread," Longtime volunteer Don Vaniman, a Temecula small-business owner who has been involved with the project since its inception, said. "It has so much meaning to the people we are able to serve."

Vaniman said that the Farm Outreach Project uses thousands of volunteer-hours each year, generating thousands of pounds of produce during the growing season from April to September.

"We had all of this extra produce, so that's where the farm stand comes in," Vaniman said. The farm stand operates as "pop-up" stalls outside the church services each Sunday, allowing congregants to see the results of the project firsthand and also allowing them to fill large brown paper bags with as much produce as they would like for a flat donation. Often special items such as large watermelons or sunflowers are also available for an additional donation. Vaniman said the money generated by the farm stand goes back to serve the needy through the Community Mission of Hope food pantry.

Volunteer Sexton, a Temecula resident, paints mason jars for some of the flowers for ready-to-go hostess gifts or table decorations. She also leads a weekly cooking demonstration, showing fellow volunteers and customers recipes to use the produce available that week. On a recent Sunday, Sexton taught teen volunteers how to make a fresh salsa, before pulling out her spiralizer to demonstrate a summer salad.

"People don't know what to do with summer squash, and this salad is great," Sexton said. She also recommends slicing summer squash into thick "steaks" and grilling them.

Sexton chats with farm stand regulars, many of whom know her by name and ask for recommendations when choosing produce. Temecula resident Erin Guerrero chatted with Sexton on a recent Sunday, mentioning that her 18-year old son is a regular farm volunteer.

Temecula residents Ed and Ronna Ackerman browsed the farm stand's selection of sunflowers with 12-year-old granddaughter Payton Hutson on a recent Sunday.

"These flowers are beautiful, and I buy produce almost every week," Ronna Ackerman said.

After the Sunday morning church service ends, Sexton supervises the volunteers as they break down the pop-up farm stand. Son Connor Sexton often drives off with crates of unsold produce to deliver to Community Mission of Hope for their food distribution boxes, and Paige Sexton has paperwork to help her mom with the record-keeping.

Looking over the crates of produce, Sexton said of her Sunday morning, "I can't imagine being anywhere else."

Fresh Salsa

Start to finish: 10 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

* 8 medium firm tomatoes

* 1 large sweet onion

* Tapatio sauce, to taste

Directions:

Dice tomatoes and onions and mix together gently. Add Tapatio sauce to desired spiciness. Serve with tortilla chips.

Eva Grossman

Shoppers at the Community Mission of Hope are encouraged to donate $5 per bag or fresh produce or $5 for a fresh watermelon. The money raised benefits the Community Mission of Hope's food pantry for needy families.

Lora Sexton's Farm Stand Salad

Start to finish: 15 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

*6-8 large carrots

* 2 medium or 1 large zucchini

* 1-2 medium pattypan squash

* 1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette dressing

Directions:

Using a spiralizer, chop vegetables into thin strands. Toss with dressing. This salad is a great take-along for a summer barbecue or potluck.

 

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