Alpa’s passion for Garden to Table program is infectious. You sense the enthusiasm when she talks about the powerful impact this program has on The Open Door’s client-gardeners. Alpa notes that the program is so much more than just giving people healthy food. Her clients tell her the program helps them build community, get some exercise, and maintain mental health. One client shared that being part of Garden to Table provided bonding time with their kids and together they learned that a tiny little carrot seed turns into a carrot.
“Garden to Table reminds me how amazing life is. Plant life is so amazing and it gives life to everything else,” Alpa says. “Our clients have hard lives, and Garden to Table gives them slow time – an opportunity to be outside, doing the work and getting their hands dirty. It is meditative and quieting and is so good for people and it makes them happy.”
Clients have told Alpa that gardening has really saved them during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she says it did the same for her. “It has been my therapy, my outlet, my excuse to get out of the house and do something meaningful.”
Gardening was a big part of Alpa’s life growing up – but she didn’t always enjoy it as a child. Alpa grew up in Iowa, the daughter of Indian immigrants. “My mom couldn’t get a lot of Indian vegetables that she wanted, so she would get seeds and just grow them herself. She had (and still has to this day) a huge garden. I am the oldest of four kids and when my mom wanted to get us out of the house (because we were driving her crazy!) she would make us go in the garden and weed – and this would be during the hottest part of the day!”
A favorite gardening moment for Alpa this year was with new client-gardener Jackie, who had never gardened before. This made Alpa a bit skeptical, so she gave Jackie an easy plot to start with. Soon enough, she says, Jackie had more cucumbers than she knew what to do with. “I had forgotten Jackie had never gardened before because of her abundance of produce – her tomatoes were falling on the ground!”
In college, Alpa worked in the Biology of Greenhouse and Preserves at the University of Northern Iowa. After that, she worked for Clean Water Action, the Arboretum, at a marketing firm as a media planner and buyer, and at a company called Multidata doing pollen and mold forecasting. After a stretch as a stay-at-home mom, Alpa was invited to apply for the role of Garden to Table Manager. “This job was serendipitous – it fell in my lap,” she says.
Before her work at TOD, Alpa thought of a food shelf as “a dirty little place that had dusty cans of green beans. I didn’t think of it as having fresh produce and healthy food. I didn’t think of it set up like a grocery store.” She adds, “There are probably times in my life where I could have been using [a food shelf] and I didn’t.”
Alpa appreciates the many great aspects of her gardening program: “Clients get free plants, seeds, plot, access to tools, water, compost, a master gardener to ask questions to, gardening classes, food preservation classes, all for them to feed themselves and their own families.”
Alpa is already starting to plan for next growing season. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, COVID-19 will still be here in the early spring, so Alpa is creating video tutorials for clients.
When Alpa isn’t managing Garden to Table, she enjoys working in her own garden and taking care of her abundant house plants. This year she hiked with her family looking for (and finding!) edible mushrooms. They also found hidden apple trees in a local park and made an apple pie and an apple crisp out of the fruit from those trees.
Alpa’s commitment to her client-gardeners and our gardening community is an inspiration and motivation for us all! We at The Open Door are thankful for Alpa and her extensive gardening knowledge.