Plant extra rows of produce to give to those in need

KENNEWICK -- It's a season for giving and sharing, so this is a good time to talk about gardeners sharing with others.

Our local WSU Extension Master Gardeners regularly donate the produce from the vegetable garden in their Demonstration Garden. It's a simple act that can have a big impact.

Making a great big impact is the "Plant a Row" or PAR program started by garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels in Anchorage. Lowenfels used his column to ask gardeners to plant a row of vegetables for Bean's Caf, a local soup kitchen. This effort was so successful that Fell introduced the idea to the Garden Writers of American as a national program.

A little slow at first, it took five years to reach the first million pounds of donated produce. Then it grew like Jack's beanstalk, taking only two years for the second million pounds. Since 1995, more than 14 million pounds of produce have been donated by PAR gardeners across the country.

PAR estimates that each pound of food supplements four meals. No federal subsidies and no government involvement was needed to make this program a success, just gardeners helping others.

In the coming year, PAR hopes that Amercian gardeners will donate 1 million pounds of food. This can happen if 40,000 gardeners each donate 25 pounds of produce. This is approximately one full grocery bag of produce. It's easier than you think. You may not even have to plant an extra row or extra plants in your garden, just pick your produce regularly and keep the plants you have producing.

America's Grow-a-Row is a very similar program. It emphasizes not just feeding the hungry, but feeding them with healthy produce. Their mission is to add fresh vegetables and fruit to low-budget diets. America's Grow-a-Row was started by Chip Paillex, a volunteer who decided to answer the call of the local food pantry in Pittstown, N.J. The food pantry requested that local gardeners donate their extra garden produce.

Paillex did more than that. He grew an entire garden, donating about $3,000 worth of produce by the end of the season.

Paillex, realizing that there was only so much he could grow with his little garden patch, contacted a local farm and asked for some help.

They donated a quarter acre of space, vegetable transplants, and seed.

Another farm also donated garden space. Members of Paillex's church stepped up to help tend all this new space. By the end of the second season, they had raised and gleaned over 14,000 pounds of food for the food pantry.

Like PAR, America's Grow-a-Row was an idea that caught on. The group received more free seed and offers of help throughout the community. In 2008, an astounding 110,000 pounds of "fresh, healthy produce" were donated. All because one gardener wanted to help.

Here in Washington, garden personality and seed purveyor, Ed Hume has been supporting gardeners' efforts to help the hungry by supporting GWA's Plant a Row program. Ed Hume Seeds has donated at least 10,000 packets of seed (mostly carrots) in support of the program since 2002.

They also donate about 1 million packets of year-old seed to international charities and last year they donated approximately a ton of seed to charities in New Orleans to help with rebuilding.

So as we reflect on our blessings during the holidays, let us keep in mind that just one gardener can make a big impact on hunger in our community. Consider planting a little extra for others as you plan next year's garden.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.