Programs for Donated Fresh Veggies

By Larraine Roulston:

Many farmers and backyard gardeners who enjoy their freshly picked organic harvest can seize the opportunity to share their excess bounty with those less fortunate. As they see it, they are delighted that soup kitchens, food banks and pantries are able to distribute much more than just processed foods.

In Canada, the roots of sharing garden produce began in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with Ron and Eunice O’Donovan. During the 1986 growing season, they harvested an over-abundance of potatoes in their backyard garden. Upon donating excess potatoes to Winnipeg Harvest, they were met with great enthusiasm. This inspired the O’Donovans to encourage friends and neighbors to donate their surplus foods as well. The Compost Council of Canada, in partnership with Food Banks Canada, and the Garden Writers Association of America were inspired by the concept and launched its Plant A Row – Grow A Row initiative that has resulted in many communities establishing their own campaigns. With local business support, the City of Edmonton, Alberta, began with the Edmonton Horticultural Society, while London Ontario’s program was led by London Composts. Quebec’s campaign named Un Rang Pour ceux Qui ont Faim that was started by the newspaper La Presse, the television program Fleurs et Jardins and the Quebec Food Bank Federation.

In 1995, Plant a Row for the Hungry was established by the Garden Writers Association of America. In the U.S., Ample Harvest.org is a nonprofit group that utilizes the Internet to educate and empower food growers to connect them easily with their food banks and other local food distribution centers. This organization envisions an America where millions of gardeners eliminate wasted food, malnutrition and hunger in their own communities. Founded by CNN’s Gary Oppenheimer, Ample Harvest.org suggests that those who rely on food banks have poorer health — diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure resulting from packaged foods containing too much salt and sugar, and preservatives. By receiving seasonal local produce, people not only receive food that has not travelled hundreds of miles, but also obtain better nutrition which could result in lessened health care costs for the country at large.

In all 50 states across America, currently there are 7,986 food pantries registered with Ample Harvest.org to receive a regular free supply of homegrown food. This has had quite an impact on the well-being of the millions of pantry clients. Children also learn that, by enjoying vegetables directly from the earth, food doesn’t always appear in cellophane packages and cans: peas arrive in pods, and radishes do not grow in clumps wrapped with elastic bands. Some people may even be introduced to foods that they did not know existed.

This project can be embraced by everyone, from children to seniors. You need not have a large garden plot. A small earthy space, a few container pots or a balcony garden offers enough area to contribute as well. All one needs to do is to plant extra seeds designated for give-away. Your donation — whether it be a few melons, a bag of beans or a basket of tomatoes — will be appreciated. Just brush off any soil and take the food to your local food bank.

Growing and sharing fresh vegetables, fruits, and even flowers promotes good health; reduces carbon emissions through local involvement; educates the importance of quality finished compost; and, above all, continues to build community spirit with the tradition that gardeners enjoy by sharing their hobby of successful harvests with others.

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Larraine writes illustrated children’s stories on composting and pollination. Visit www.castlecompost.com 

Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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