BARK RIVER, Mich. (WZMQ) – A Bark River man is using his green thumb to feed those in need.
Joe Pokladowski started growing produce in Wisconsin, working with the Green Bay Packers’ community garden program.
“I ended up taking that over, and then I wanted to bring it to Upper Michigan,” he said.
He founded his own nonprofit, Planting With a Purpose. He grows everything from apples and artichokes to kale and potatoes, then donates his produce to food pantries in Escanaba, Marquette, and Menominee.
“We’ve all been down on our luck,” Pokladowski said. “I’ve gone to the pantry before and it’s canned goods sometimes, and the dollar menu’s not going to help you mentally, physically. You go to the store today and see a cucumber for 78 cents and you’re on a limited budget, but you go to a pantry and you get fresh vegetables, a little bit of meat, you’ve got a whole meal right there.”
Planting With a Purpose also makes healthy eating more accessible for those in need. Pokladowski delivers care boxes to people who can’t make a trip to the store or food pantry.
“The understanding when I first came up here was, ‘Oh, they all have land; everyone can grow their own garden,'” he said. “That’s not the case. You have to look at the bigger picture—the veterans who can’t usually get to the grocery store, the elderly who can’t drive and want their fresh produce.”
Pokladowski says donating produce also ensures it will be put to good use.
“The market wants these kind of onions, perfect size and everything,” he said, holding a few large onions.
He then grabbed some smaller onions, saying, “What are you going to do with these onions? They’re the same good taste, same everything, but they’re just not market value. These are the ones I donate.”
In just a few years, Pokladowski has increased his donations significantly. He even hit a new record in 2023.
“I was in the city, Green Bay, and they don’t have much area you can work with, so I only donated around 300 pounds,” Pokladowski said of his early years. “This year, up to two and a half tons. I’m smiling ear-to-ear over it.”
Planting With a Purpose continues to grow, and Pokladowski doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“The future of it is, there’ll be more educating,” he said. “I’ll be working with hopefully the Future Farmers of America to start a chapter here. I started an orchard, 150 trees, to sell the good apples, and that will sustain this whole project in the future. It’s about the community and making it stronger, and we all help.”
Planting With a Purpose is always looking for volunteers to help with planting and harvesting. To volunteer, make a monetary donation, or learn more about Planting With a Purpose, visit the nonprofit’s website or Facebook page.