MILFORD — On Monday, July 16, Milford’s Harvest with a Heart produce market will open for its 10th season. To commemorate the anniversary, a celebration is in the works to take place at the southwest corner of SR 15 and Emeline Street in Milford.
Harvest with a Heart’s beginnings can be traced to a preschool field trip attended by two Milford mothers, Ann Schlabach and Nancy Haines. Both women are gardeners, and their conversation turned to the amount of produce from their gardens going unused every year. As Schlabach recalled, the pair agreed they were not the only gardeners facing this dilemma and the wasted produce should be offered to the community. “We should open something and see what happens,” they decided.
With the help of Angel Hardy, who provided an unused space on Emeline Street, Harvest with a Heart opened in the summer of 2008.
“We were really surprised at the response,” said Schlabach, who recalled Bob Bowerman dropping off 34 pounds of eggplant. “We were trying to get every person to try it,” she commented. Another gardener donated a truckload of butternut squash. “It was amazing how fast it went. Word gets out.”
The credo was “take what you need, give what you can.” The vegetable market was open to everyone, and the suggested donation of 25 cents would go to a local organization.
In 2009, Haines, Hardy and Schlabach were awarded the Heart of Gold Award from the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, which also awarded the market seed money for improvements.
But with success came difficulties. They had no refrigeration, and they needed to start tracking the amount of produce and where the donations were going. So a grant was submitted to the K21 Foundation.
The foundation awarded Harvest with a “six-figure grant” for a new building at its current location on the corner of SR 15 and Emeline Street. “We’re just a little vegetable market,” remarked Schlabach, “we were very grateful they showed faith in us.”
In 2011, the Milford Food Pantry also moved into the Harvest with a Heart building. Although both now fall under the aegis of Harvest with a Heart, there are differences in how they operate. As Maria Cousins, the current director, explained anybody can visit the produce market while it is open from July through October; however, the pantry, open all year, requires clients be residents of Van Buren Township.
Harvest with a Heart continues to grow. An annual plant sale, held every May, offers vegetable plants raised by Wawasee High School horticulture students. An event providing nutritious food and educational experience. Gardeners are also encouraged to “grow a row” designated for donation to the sale.
And, in 2017, Harvest Coffee opened at 103 S. Main St. in Milford as a means of “building intentional relationships in the community,” said Schlabach. It also offers free lunches — a sandwich and piece of fruit — to children in the summer months.
Also in 2017, Harvest received another grant, this time from the K21 Foundation to update communications, create cohesive branding and take part in not-for-profit workshops. “They’ve been very generous,” Cousins affirmed. “We wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
In 10 years, Harvest with a Heart has distributed 76,475 pounds of produce and $22,501 has been donated to local organizations. “We’re giving back to the community,” Schlabach stated.
In the future, Cousins and Schlabach would like to see the market, pantry and Harvest Coffee all in the same facility with a community garden, but they are taking it one step at a time.
“We just jump on opportunities when they come to us,” said Schlabach.
For more information, go to harvestwithaheart.org or find them on Facebook, along with Milford Harvest Coffee.