In 1995, the Garden Writers Association started a public service campaign called Plant a Row for the Hungry. The program's goal was to help stamp out hunger by establishing networks of gardeners in communities across the U.S. and Canada that were willing to grow a row for the hungry to donate to local food programs. Here is how you can be among the thousands of gardeners who are helping to feed the hungry each year by giving away a row of what you grow.
In 2006, 35.5 million people (22.8 million adults and 12.6 million children) lived in households at risk of being hungry. Of these households at risk, 21% accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times, and 55% participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs. (1)
Among the people at risk, 7.7 million adults and 3.5 million children lived in households that actually experienced hunger, meaning family members were forced to frequently skip meals, reduce the amount of food they ate, or skip whole days of eating, due to the lack of financial or other resources for food. (2)
No one understands the value of fresh, nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables more than gardeners. Unfortunately, fresh produce is (pound per pound) more expensive than nutrient-empty foods, so even if they have access to it, people struggling to put food on the table can't always afford it.
Collecting fresh produce is also a challenge for emergency food programs. Often the donated produce they collect from local grocers is on the 'fringe', so it expires before it can be distributed.
Participating in the Plant a Row for the Hungry program is easy. Plant. Harvest. Donate. That's really all there is to it! If you can spare the space, plant an extra row. If you have a bumper crop, donate the surplus.
Before you plant, contact the food shelves, soup kitchens, and shelters in your area for guidelines on the types of fruits and vegetables they accept. Don't forget to ask if they have preferences on how food should be cleaned or processed prior to delivery.
Grow nutrient-dense crops that will stay fresh on the shelf for a few days, and that can hold up to transport and handling.
Store harvested produce properly until it is donated. Discard any old or damaged produce so one bad apple doesn't 'spoil the bunch.'
Use your imagination. This is a great opportunity to get your whole neighborhood involved in supporting the community. Work together with kids to plant extra rows around the neighborhood, and then enlist them to keep track of how many pounds are finally donated. Have an apple-picking day where everyone gathers to celebrate the harvest before donating the surplus. Throw a 'garden party' for your friends and designate a different crop to each person. Have fun and do good at the same time!
Local food programs will always welcome contributions of your money or your time. Consider donating gently used tools, and extra flower and vegetable seeds to local garden clubs and community gardeners. Help a less fortunate neighbor with planting and maintaining a garden. Help create new gardens in low-income neighborhoods by teaching classes on gardening. Sell plants to raise money for local food programs.
(1,2: America's Second Harvest Network Hunger Study:, Hungry in America 2006)
About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com
A couple years ago my sister and I tried to donate fresh food from the garden to the jesus house in oklahoma, they turned us down. They said they couldnt take fresh food because they had no way of knowing how fresh it was. Makes no sense to me! We thought that was what all food banks would say so we gave up on it. Will others take fresh food?
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