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Officials with Loaves & Fishes Community Food Pantry in Naperville know the drill: They visit nearby Mayneland Farm three times a week to pick up donations of fresh produce, and when they do, they go up to house, and ring the farm bell.
As one of the only working farms left in Naperville, visits to Mayneland Farm constitute a step back to a simpler time, when families worked the land to feed themselves and they always shared what they had with their neighbors.
Jeremy Mayne's family has owned the 15 acres near Bauer Road and Mill Street, since 1949. While starting out as a grain farm, the family turned to fruits and vegetables after watching the success of a friend who started a garden on one of their half acres.
Back in 1976, Don Zietlow started setting up card tables offering his wares on Bauer Road, and he drew an immediate following. When he moved in 1980, the Mayne family took over the operation, expanding their efforts to growing fruits and vegetables on all 15 acres.
Their popular Mayneland Farmstand now draws hundreds of customers each week for its selections of locally grown produce. During the height of the season, they typically sell up to 150 pounds of tomatoes and nearly 400 pounds of sweet corn, per day.
But they almost always have leftovers. Rather than throw it away, or use it as compost, Mayne says they started donating the produce to their local food pantry 12 years ago.
"I like to be able to give them vegetables and fruit that are picked that same day," Mayne says, "so it's as fresh as possible."
Loaves & Fishes volunteers then display it as part of their "client choice" method of letting families choose the food they like and will eat, rather than pre-bagging it. The fresh produce, they say, almost always goes first.
"It's a nice, wide assortment of beautiful fresh produce," says Loaves & Fishes spokeswoman Jody Bender. "The quality is wonderful and people look forward to it."
For years, Mayne has been the largest contributor of produce to the food pantry, and his generosity is catching on, officials say. They also receive donations from individual gardeners, who want to share their harvest with families less fortunate.
On a recent visit to the Mayneland Farm, Loaves & Fishes volunteers picked up ears of sweet corn, baby eggplant, raspberries, lettuce, Swiss chard and zucchini.
"It's just satisfying for me, to see it go to families who need it," Mayne adds.
Already this season, Mayneland Farm also has donated spinach, radishes, broccoli and sugar peas, and they started contributing tomatoes last week. Tomatoes and sweet corn are among his most prolific crops, and they make up the bulk of his donations as the summer season wears on.
All of which comes as good news to Loaves & Fishes officials, who last month alone distributed food to more than 4,700 people, including 441 single mothers, 531 seniors and nearly 2,000 children.
Executive Director Charles McLimans says the number of area families unable to provide three meals a day continues to "increase at an alarming rate," an indicator of increasing job loss and financial difficulties.