How many times have you passed on a gift of zucchini or fresh tomatoes because you already have dozens ripening at home? We gardeners easily become complacent when we can grow extraordinary produce every summer with enough left over to can or dry or freeze – that is if we want to. And if we don’t want to, most of us would hate to admit how much edible produce lands in the compost heap.
Every summer gardeners across America are faced with this dilemma of excess produce. It was keenly understood by columnist Jeff Lowenfels, the former president of Garden Writers Association (GWA). As a resident of Alaska, he knew Beans’ Cafe; an Anchorage soup kitchen could do so much more for the homeless if they could obtain produce. With most of its food imported to this far away state, the price of purchased fruits and veggies was simply prohibitive. But if the Anchorage gardeners could channel their summertime bounty into the Bean’s Cafe pantry, it would alleviate much of the problem.
Using the platform of his column, Jeff began appealing to gardeners to donate to Bean’s Cafe, and soon the idea spread south and east through the Lower 48. It became a national program of the GWA, a powerful organization of horticultural journalists. As the idea blossomed, journalists developed a more formal program known as Plant a Row For The Hungry (PAR) to assist communities in organizing their own local branches. The PAR guidelines became the basis of a grass roots effort by gardeners to supply food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations everywhere.
Because GWA members work in print, video and online media, this unique ability to spread the word proved highly successful. As columnists and radio hosts began to suggest that each gardener plant just one extra row in the garden, and donate that harvest to the poor, home food growers of every stripe took notice. It took five years to reach the first million pounds of donated produce. Today gardeners are donating a million pounds per year, with each pound calculated to supplement four meals. Just to manage the now thriving national organization, the GWA has created a nonprofit Garden Writers Association Foundation to administer the PAR program.
Every food gardener has an opportunity to become involved because the GWA has branches of this organization in most American communities. Plant a Row for the Hungry is an ideal way to give back in thanksgiving for the privilege of having a bit of earth to turn in this age old right of growing food that now feeds the less fortunate from a million American backyards.