Growing their credit

  • Eavis checks out the newly added chickens. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Some of the crops within the city include watermelon, tomatoes, corn, herbs, berries and green leafs. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Nino holds the new addition to the garden. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • A team effort: (left to right) Cathy Nino, Steve Schiavone and Karen Eavis visit the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union’s award-winning garden. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

The fair weath­er has been kind to the to­ma­toes, pep­pers, wa­ter­mel­on and herbs grow­ing next to the Phil­adelphia Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on’s of­fice on Town­send Road. There’s still some sweet corn, too.

“The girls” like the corn. On a sunny late sum­mer day, Milly, Ginger, Nug­get and Vivi­an gathered around Cathy Nino, the cred­it uni­on’s be­ne­fits man­ager, when she brought them a cob to share.

The pro­duct­ive egg-lay­ing Loh­man Browns clucked ap­pre­ci­at­ively as they made short work of the treat.

The four hens are the new­est ad­di­tions to what has be­come a large — and award-win­ning — com­munity garden star­ted, seeded, weeded and har­ves­ted by about 100 cred­it uni­on em­ploy­ees, said com­mu­nic­a­tions spe­cial­ist Kar­en Eav­is.

“It’s a won­der­ful team-build­ing pro­ject,” Nino said Sept. 19.

The 150-foot-by-40-foot garden’s har­vest in­cludes cukes, zukes, Swiss chard, lettuce, mel­ons, egg­plant, flowers and, new this year, peaches. It also pro­duces some good will. Well, ac­tu­ally, a lot of good will.

Em­ploy­ees buy the garden’s ve­g­gies and eggs, and the money then is donated to Aid for Friends, a nearby Town­send Road non­profit that provides food to isol­ated home­bound people. Aid for Friends also gets sur­plus pro­duce, and the cred­it uni­on matches the money raised by garden sales. So far, PFCU has donated more than $7,500 to the non­profit.

“PFCU is a great neigh­bor,” said Aid for Friends’ ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Steven M. Schiavone. “They al­ways come with bags or boxes full of fresh ve­get­ables. They even bring eggs. Most of the pro­duce is put dir­ectly in­to our meals.”

The bounty from the cred­it uni­on also helps the non­profit make more meals for home­bound people for less money, and those meals are more nu­tri­tious, Schiavone said, be­cause of the fresh in­gredi­ents.

There’s an­oth­er be­ne­fit for the cred­it uni­on’s em­ploy­ees: the garden is just a pleas­ant place to be.

“It’s peace­ful out here,” Nino said, adding there nev­er is a short­age of vo­lun­teers to feed the hens or work in the garden.

It all star­ted six years ago with some to­ma­toes and herbs, and then took off, Nino said. Every year, the cred­it uni­on’s work­ers im­prove and ex­pand the garden. This year, a peach tree went in, Nino said, and a chick­en coop was built for “the girls,” who ar­rived in Ju­ly.

“They be­came lay­ers as soon as they got here,” Nino said.

This year, too, Nino entered the garden in the “urb­an farm” cat­egory of the Pennsylvania Hor­ti­cul­tur­al So­ci­ety’s City­wide Garden Con­test. The PFCU garden took a second place.

Get­ting the soil ready for plant­ing took some ef­fort, Nino said. A lot of manu­al labor was needed to get the garden where it is today, she said.

“And,” she said, “it’s still a work in pro­gress.”  ••

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