Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TOP STORY >> Loofah plants help local groups

Leader staff writer

Cabot resident Cathy Staton is using her flower beds to grow more than plants—she is cultivating the seeds of Loofah Life, an organization raising funds to help children in need.

Staton is growing loofah plants to help make a difference. She said funds raised by Loofah Life will be donated to organizations helping children such as United Methodist Children’s Homes, Baptist Children’s House and Family Services, Hot Springs Church of the Open Door, which feeds the needy in the city, Heifer International and Integral Justice Mission. Staton is working on obtaining nonprofit status for Loofah Life.

She will be looking for crafters, jewelers and paper-craft makers to develop loofah products to sell after the crop season.

Staton is looking for volunteer gardeners to grow loofahs during this year’s growing season, which starts soon. She has growers in Cabot, Conway, Fox, California and South Carolina interested in her endeavor. Growers will keep 10 percent of their loofah crop and donate the rest.

The dried loofah fruits will be sent to Staton’s home.

When a gardener grows loofahs, he will be eligible for a tax deduction.

A portion of the money raised from selling the loofah products will be returned to the seller. The remaining will be used to support organizations that help or care for abused, neglected or abandoned children.

“My gardeners will have different input on where they would like to donate,” she said.

Staton said it is still early enough in the year to plant loofah seeds.

“Gardeners are the foundation of the organization,” Staton said.

A loofah is a fruit that grows on a vine and is part of the cucumber family. Loofahs have a growing season of 140 days.

Seeds are planted around April 15 and the loofahs are left to dry on the vine until October. The fruit’s skin dries out and inside a sponge is formed.

Approximately 10 loofahs grow on each vine. A loofah can produce over 300 seeds. The seeds are kept and used for next year’s planting and the cycle continues.

Staton said the seeds can be used in crafts and jewelry.

The loofah fruit is edible.

“I heard they are bitter. I have not tried it,” Staton said.

The whole plant can be used.

“I became aware of using resources, looking for those things that are naturally self-sustaining. If it has more than one use, I am a fan,” Staton said.

The dried loofah skin is removed by soaking the loofah in water.

She is planning to sell the loofah sponges for around $2 or $3. The sponge is used for bathing and a kitchen cleaner. Staton said the loofah lasts a lot longer than synthetic scrubbers. When a loofah sponge loses its cleaning effectiveness it can be put into the compost pile. The sponges can be used in children’s art projects.

The skins and vines are cooked. They are mixed with old newsprint to make art canvases, greeting and thank-you cards.

Staton grew up in Texas and was raised by her grandparents.Her grandfather grew fruits and vegetables. Staton started gardening seven years ago after her daughter Victoria was born. She said her father-in-law, Bill Staton, was a master gardener.

Her husband, Shane, is a youth pastor at Cabot First United Methodist Church. He builds raised flower beds for Staton. Their daughter helps with watering the plants.

Staton was a Garland County master gardener before her family moved to Cabot over a year ago. She has a master’s degree in world mission from the Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

She is working on a doctorate degree in counseling psychology at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

“I’ve become more aware of the need in the state especially for children,” Staton said.

She said she loves growing things and using that love to help others.

Volunteer gardeners who want to assist Loofah Life can call Staton at 501-617-5678 or visit the Loofah Life page on Facebook for free seeds and more information on the organization.