Dr. Hilary Hunt is harvesting a happy ending for many local consumers as he gathers together friendship and fare.
Tucked into one of Paducah’s neighborhoods is a home garden whose bumper crop of vegetables is feeding more than its caretaker, his large family, and his fortunate neighbors and friends. For several years, Dr. Hilary Hunt has grown and donated countless bushels of tomatoes, bell peppers, pole beans and other crops from his garden to Paducah’s Community Kitchen. Dr. Hunt and his wife Ginny are happy to share their bounty with Paducah’s hungry, offering a true garden-to-table experience to the Kitchen’s diners.
An early morning walk through the neighborhood offers a passerby a view of the Hunt’s neatly arranged vegetable garden. Long rows of massive bell peppers are followed by tomato plants too numerous to count. Watermelons can be seen growing on carefully tufted mounds. Throughout the growing season, Dr. Hunt also harvests green onions, broccoli, radishes, pole beans, and cucumbers.
Several years ago, a friend mentioned to Dr. Hunt that he had started volunteering at the Community Kitchen. Intrigued, Dr. Hunt wanted to learn more about the organization. He explains, “For years I had been wanting to do something to give back to the community. I wanted to find a place that I could support with my gifts.”
At first, the Hunts supplied the Kitchen with their extras. Whatever was left over after harvesting and canning for their family was delivered to neighbor and Community Kitchen founder Sally Michelson’s door step. Michelson would serve the vegetables at the daily meals. In recent years, Dr. Hunt has started planting crops especially for the Community Kitchen. 100 bell pepper plants are expected to yield over 1,000 peppers – some 7 inches long and 5 inches wide! – this summer for the organization.
Dr. Hunt estimates that his neighborhood garden has supplied the Kitchen with eight bushels of pole beans, 10 bushels of fresh tomatoes and dozens of canned tomatoes, and many watermelons and cucumbers throughout the growing season. “The Community Kitchen needs two things – volume and nutrition,” Hunt says. Therefore, Dr. Hunt personally harvests his vegetables to ensure maximum nutrition. “As soon as the bell peppers start to show the faintest red color, I pick them. At that point I know they’re not going to get any bigger and that the nutrients are maximized.” Hunt still delivers his crops each week to Michelson’s doorstep.
Shoppers at Midtown Market were treated to Dr. Hunt’s blackberry crop earlier this summer. Owner Andy Carloss was thrilled to sell Hunt’s “incredible, huge, perfect blackberries” to his customers. Dr. Hunt is especially fond of his 33 blackberry plants, grown at his son’s home, which offers ample space for the berries to flourish. “I was raised on blackberries and cornbread,” Hunt remembers. “My whole family would roam the countryside picking wild blackberries. They take me back to my childhood.” Hunt’s blackberries are the only thing he sells, and the funds made from selling his local berries are used to defray some of the costs of his home garden.
Everything comes full circle for the Hunts as the home garden in turn helps to feed to community. Be it a hobby, a passion, a contribution to Paducah’s locavore and garden-to-table movement, or a calling, Dr. Hilary Hunt and his wife Ginny are taking what they love and are using the fruits of their labor to benefit their community.
“At the end of the day, I think life is about loving your neighbor and feeding the hungry,” Dr. Hunt says. “I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
Field Greens with Fresh Peaches and Blackberry Vinaigrette
• 2 cup fresh blackberries
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon (pinch) ground black pepper
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup walnuts
• 4 cups field greens
• 2 fresh peaches, cut into thin slices
<• 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
To make the blackberry vinaigrette: Place the blackberries in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring them to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the berries come to a simmer, remove the saucepan from the heat immediately. Puree the berries in a food processor or blender and then press the mixture through a fine to medium-mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Whisk the remaining ingredients into the seedless blackberry puree.
To make candied walnuts: Bring 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil for 2 minutes. Add the walnuts and continue cooking the mixture over medium-high heat until the nuts are coated in a thick sugar syrup. Spread the candied walnuts on a lightly greased baking sheet to cool.
To assemble the peach blackberry salad: Arrange 1 cup field greens on each plate. Divide the sliced peaches, goat cheese, and candied walnuts among each salad. Drizzle the salads with the blackberry vinaigrette and serve immediately. This field greens with peaches and blackberry dressing recipe makes 4 servings.