CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — When not in the classroom at Penn State Lehigh Valley, Kevin Kelley, associate teaching professor and psychology degree program coordinator, can usually be found digging in the dirt or weeding vegetable beds. He has even been recognized for his dedication to tilling the soil and cultivating crops. Kelley is one of two recipients of the Volunteer of the Year award presented by the Easton Neighborhood Center.
Kelley is active with the Easton Urban Farm, an initiative of the center. An amateur gardener with a keen interest in growing vegetables, Kelley enrolled in the Penn State Master Gardener program to learn new tricks and techniques to grow fresh produce. The Master Gardener program requires volunteer hours at an agriculture site; Kelley did some research and discovered the Urban Farm.
“The farm is on the south side of the city in what is considered to be a ‘food desert’ — it has a large population and not many food stores. There’s a diverse population and certainly a need for more food sites,” Kelley said. The farm exists to provide food to consumers at the Neighborhood Center. “I started volunteering at the farm just to get my hours in, but then I fell in love with the place,” Kelley said. Over the past year, he joined the advisory board.
During the summer, Kelley averages between 20-30 hours a week at the farm, weeding, planting and doing other chores to keep the farm thriving. The hard work of Kelley and other volunteers has paid off — last year the farm generated 11,000 pounds of produce (roughly five tons). With a laugh, Kelley said, “That’s a lot of weeds.”
Kelley started volunteering at the farm with a humble goal, but said he has found so much more. “There are lots of opportunities to set up flower beds and horticultural arrangements, but I’m more interested in growing vegetables. What I like about the farm is it’s not just a couple of vegetables we’re growing, but about 30. There’s just no other opportunity for me to get that kind of experience growing 30 different vegetables from seed to harvest to clean up after harvest,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of really nice people. It’s really the perfect opportunity to grow vegetables and then give them away.”
The farm’s bounty is primarily distributed during the Neighborhood Center’s twice-monthly food pantry. “People come in and leave with a market basket full of fresh produce,” Kelley said. “We get items from the Lehigh Valley Food Bank for the pantry, and we supply the produce.”
The farm will expand to a full acre by the end of 2023, Kelley said. “One big advantage is we’ll be able to rest some of the beds — we have to be careful of over-planting, so we can have an off-season for several of the rows. The farm will continue to have high-quality produce without using pesticides.”
For more information, visit the Easton Neighborhood Center website.