Blog Action Day: Food
I thought I'd take this world-wide Blog Action Day centering on Food to spotlight again the Plant A Row program organized by the Garden Writers Association. As gardeners, we know that the best way to source local, organic food is to grow our own. We also know that sharing that bounty is one of the greatest joys in life.
Here is an article I wrote about the program for our Washington Gardener enewsletter in July 2009:
Is your garden’s bounty overflowing?
Donate Your Excess to Others in Need
Are your tomato plants groaning with loaded down branches of ripe fruit? Do your neighbors pretend their not home when you come over with yet another bag of zucchini? Looking for a place to donate your garden’s bounty?
Plant A Row for the Hungry (PAR) is one answer. The concept is simple. There are over 70 million gardeners in the U.S. alone, many of whom plant vegetables and harvest more than they can possibly consume. If every gardener plants one extra row of vegetables and donates their surplus to local food banks and soup kitchens, a significant impact can be made on reducing hunger. Food agencies will have access to fresh produce, funds earmarked for produce can be redirected to other needed items and the hungry of America will have more and better food than is presently available.
One in ten households in the United States experiences hunger, according to the U.S, Department of Agriculture. With the current economy, those extra fruits and vegetables from your backyard garden are needed now more than ever.
“Local help trickles down,” says garden writer and PAR spokesman Jeff Lowenfels. “PAR donations now really do mean acting locally and impacting globally.”
Lowenfels began PAR in his local Alaska garden column, when he asked gardeners to plant a row of vegetables for Bean’s Cafe, an Anchorage soup kitchen. Since then, PAR has grown exponentially through continued media support, individual and company sponsorship, and volunteerism. PAR does all of this without government bureaucracy and red tape -- just one gardener at a time helping their neighbors.
Carol Ledbetter, PAR coordinator at the Garden Writers Association, says, “Donating your excess produce is particularly important now... local gardeners’ donations are urgently needed. This is directly helping in our own neighborhoods.” Part of Ledbetter’s mission is to direct gardeners trying to find out where to donate their excess and also working with anyone wishing to start a PAR program in their local area. She can be reached at PAR@gardenwriters.org or 877.492.2727 (toll-free).
The Capital Area Food Bank has just launched the Grow A Row project. Gardeners throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area are encouraged to participate. Whether you grow an extra row, dig up your entire yard, or organize a collective donation from your community garden, we appreciate your contribution. Donated produce is provided to Capital Area Food Bank member agencies and local community organizations that have the capacity to use the produce. The Capital Area Food Bank works with a network of over 700 charitable organizations in the DC metro area, including food pantries, soup kitchens, youth programs, and emergency shelters. Contact Anika Roth (202.526.5344 x298 or firstname.lastname@example.org) to participate and they will work with you to determine the best way to distribute your produce to the community. All participants will receive a Grow A Row Participant sign to put up in their garden and will be recognized on their web site.
In Prince William County, VA, the Virginia Cooperative Extension office oversees a volunteer master gardener program which coordinates donations to local food banks. On Thursdays and Saturdays, they do collections at the Manassas Farmers Market. Local gardeners can bring their excess produce to donate and we also collect any unsold produce at the end of the day from the market. This saves the farmers from hauling it back home and stops needless waste. For information on this program, contact the Virginia Master Gardener helpline at 703.792.7747.
One little known but highly effective local excess produce donation program is Harvest for the Hungry at the USDA in Beltsville, MD. Between 70,000 – 100,000 pounds of produce (tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, melons, potatoes, sweet corn, squash, etc.) per year is harvested by volunteer groups and given to Food for Others. The USDA tests out hundreds of new plant varieties and at the end of their testing the food would otherwise just go to waste in the fields. Last year, in one weekend, over 200 Girl Scouts toured the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and then helped pick produce which Food for Others uses for individual food boxes and local DC area food banks. For more information on the program, contact the USDA coordinator at 301.343 8295 or visit: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=8803.
During this harvest season, before you let your fruits and vegetables go to waste or straight to the compost pile, take a few minutes to pick a few and drop them off at your local area food bank or give them directly to anyone you know in need. The answer to your problem of excess is just a few minutes of extra planning and the satisfaction of giving where it is most needed.
Plant a Row for the Hungry Area Drop-Off Coordinators
Baltimore: Roberta Sharper (410.624.3144)
Hagerstown: Charles Stewart (email@example.com)
Kent County: Barbara Ellis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Arlington: Lisa Crye, Arlington Food Assistance Center (email@example.com)
Boyce: Steve Carroll, State Arboretum of Virginia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Central Virginia: Annette Pelliccio, The Happy Gardener (Happygardenr@aol.com)
Culpeper County: Rob Burnett (email@example.com)
Loudoun County: Julia Brizendine (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Newport News: Lisa Ziegler, The Gardener’s Workshop (email@example.com)
Prince William County: Paige Duecker Prince William County Extension (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rappahannock County: Hal Hunter (email@example.com; 540.937.4744)