While the coronavirus has forced the cancellation of all its upcoming programs, the Veterans Employment Base Camp and Organic Garden in New Bern has found a way to assist local residents whose incomes have been impacted during the crisis.


Beginning April 15, VEBCOG will join with the Department of Health and Human Services to make its garden-fresh vegetables available to local residents in need.


“We were contacted by DHHS because we’re still growing produce out here and we still have workers that are coming out, but we’re spacing them out so only one person is out here at a time,” said VEBCOG founder Lovay Wallace-Singleton. “Once the produce starts growing we’re going to be supplying it to the DHHS clients.”


Wallace-Singleton said DHHS will send VEBCOG a list of clients who will be coming by the garden to pick up a five pound bag of produce.


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“It will help supplement what they're getting, because some of them are already having issues with income,” she explained. “If there are people who can’t come to the garden it would be easy for us to bring it by or set up something. This is something totally new so we’re trying to play it by ear, but I didn't want the produce out here to go to waste.”


Formed in 2012, VEBCOG works to help disabled, disadvantaged and homeless veterans acquire employment, agricultural skills and veteran-specific information. Located in New Bern’s Duffyfield community, the garden provides transitional employment for homeless veterans as well as access to fresh food for community members through an on-site farmers market, which is open from March to November. Proceeds from the sales feed directly back into the program. Due to COVID-19 however, the farmers market is on hold for the time being.


“I could have the farmers market but then you can't control how many people come out,” explained Wallace-Singleton. “So by having them referred to us and come at certain times to do their pickup, we’ll know who is coming by. We only have one acre so it’s not a lot of produce, which is why we’re trying to reserve it for the clients who are most needy, and DHHS will know that.”


According to Wallace-Singleton, the loss of the farmers market may cost VEBCOG much of its income for the coming year.


“That’s going to hit us probably for about $3,000 to $5,000. But it’s not anything that’s going to shut us down,” she said. “Because we’re on a city-owned lot we don't have a lot of overhead, so that’s good for us. We already have our equipment and we had already purchased our seeds for the year. We’ve also applied for a couple of the grants that have become available for farmers and hopefully if we get that we’ll be able to purchase some things to see us through.”


Wallace-Singleton said she currently has two employees helping her at the garden but has been forced to cancel regular visits from volunteers with the Young Marines from MCAS Cherry Point.


“We may start phasing that back in after they figure what the apex of the virus is or what kind of protective gear we need in order to work with one another but it will probably be later in the year, maybe in the summer,” she noted.


Wallace-Singleton said her work at VEBCOG has provided a welcome distraction from the barrage of COVID-19 news.


“This has kind of like been my stress relief. It’s been really good to be out here and get my hands in the dirt. If I had to have a job right now this would be the one I would pick.


“This whole thing has kind of thrown us for a loop,” she added. “But it’s like making lemonade out of lemons, you’ve got to try and do something and so that’s our goal.”