Giving Some Back
A 10-year-old North Kingstown boy's roadside vegetable stand has not only become a popular place to get fresh-picked produce, but is quietly making a statement about giving back to the community. This summer he is donating half of everything he makes to Hasbro Children's Hospital. Jim Hummel tells us why.
By 9 a.m. the temperature is already heading north of 90 degrees.
But Ethan Lehnertz is undeterred.
The soon-to-be middle schooler makes his way out to a massive garden next to his family's house in North Kingstown, ready to pick. On this Saturday morning it's tomatoes, zucchini, squash, beets, peppers and eggplant.
From there it's a short walk to the makeshift vegetable stand at the front of his family's property on Shermantown Road - where Ethan will more than likely sell out by the end of the day.
If you look closely at the stand - you'll see a contest going on this summer: Ethan will donate half of everything he makes to either Hasbro Children's Hospital or the North Kingstown Food Pantry.
Hummel: ``When did that idea come up that you wanted to do that?''
Ethan: ``Two years ago - I just liked the idea.''
What most people who stop by don't know is Ethan was attacked by two dogs when he was in first grade. He wound up in the pediatric intensive care unit at Hasbro, after undergoing eight hours of surgery. The doctors stopped counting at 500 stitches.
And in the uncluttered logic of a 10-year-old: they helped him - so he wants to help them.
But, it turns out, this philanthropist is also somewhat of a businessman.
Ethan's mom Terri says when they began the garden five years ago the family was giving away all of the extra vegetables they couldn't eat themselves.
Terri: ``He was saving up for Lego set - he really wanted this fancy Lego set and I said there's no way I want to pay - whatever - for these, this huge Lego set. So I said save up your money and you can buy it.''
So Ethan started charging a nominal amount for the vegetables, but from the get-go wanted to give half of the profits away, even if it meant having to save a little longer to get the Legos.
He had learned about hunger at school - and how the local food pantry needs help, especially in the summer months. So last year he used the $200 he made to buy meal boxes from Stop & Shop and delivered them to the food pantry.
The garden is a pretty efficient operation. Ethan's dad Mike rototills, mom plants and weeds and Ethan picks and sells. On most days he leaves the vegetables on the stand unattended. After all this is summer, and there are a lot of other things for a boy to do.
Hummel: ``Do you just usually leave things out there and it's on the honor system?''
Hummel: ``Does that work?''
Ethan: ``Yes, most of the time. Well, I don't really know 'cause I'm not out there to check, but I try to make sure people pay by counting up how much and what we sold.''
The family didn't set out to open up a vegetable stand when they moved here. But Terri grew up in Little Compton and always had a garden, so she started one here at the new house.
Terri: ``You know you get carried away, you go to Shartners, you go to Walmart, to Home Depot, you see all of these plants and you think Ok yeah, I have a big area. I have the room, I'll just plant that and all of a sudden with the three of us, and my husband's not a vegetable person, Ethan is somewhat in between, I love them, so we started picking and we were giving away to everyone; our friends, family, everyone. I'd drop off vegetables at people's houses randomly.''
Hummel: ``Here she comes.''
Terri: ``The vegetable lady. It just got too much.''
Hummel: ``Five more zucchini.''
Terri: ``So we started putting it out by the road and Ethan's right we started just extra stuff in a big bucket and said free- take what you want.''
Hummel: ``A lot of people take it?''
Terri: ``Yeah. Oh yeah.''
Ethan: ``We started to get more stuff than we could eat, so we decided to start selling it.''
Hummel: ``Does word get out in the town, or how does it go in terms of popularity?''
Ethan: ``Facebook - mostly - and then they tell people, or sometimes people just drive by and buy stuff.''
Terri: ``Sometimes they'll leave notes, sometimes they'll leave requests - can you please put something below the table and I'll come by and pick it up?''
Hummel: ``So you're starting to cater...''
Terri: ``Oh yeah, we've actually had requests. Little notes left with requests, yeah.''
Hummel: ``And is word getting out that this is a pretty good place to get vegetables?''
Ethan: ``I think so. I hope so.''
Hummel: ``What do you find is most popular? What are people looking for, or does it vary?''
Terri: ``It really varies, every year I try something different, so this year I'm trying beets and Brussel sprouts for the first time, I've never done that before. Last year and the year before I think I tried different colors of eggplant, pink and white. So it seems like the odd things sometimes get taken right away.''
Hummel: ``Just between us, do you ever eat any of the stuff yourself? Do you have a favorite?''
Hummel: ``Do people react to the whole charity aspect of it?''
Terri: ``Oh definitely, the first year he wasn't telling anybody he was giving it away to charity at all.''
Ethan makes sure everyone stopping by casts a vote - for Hasbro or the food pantry. He tells us Hasbro is winning by a two-thirds margin.
Ethan says although the hospital is free to use the money however it sees fit, he's had a few suggestions in the past.
Ethan: ``I like that they had double popsicles when I went for surgery so I told them to get double popsicles and games.''
In North Kingstown Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.