edible equity

Plant a Row

By Kayla Norbash / Photography By Greg Moody | March 01, 2016
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illustration of peppers, tomatoes, corn, squash, zucchini and carrots all connected

Looking for a different way to think about growing food?

Feed Communities invites community members to join its new Plant A Row initiative and do just that: Think about food-growing in a new light.

This initiative asks individuals to rethink their gardening plans to include something more: their community. Groups and individuals grow food for a litany of reasons. Many grow food for their families and maybe even their neighbors. They grow food as a hobby. They grow food because they love it. They grow food because they believe in it. Feed Communities is now asking the public to add growing food because they want to help others to the list.

Feed Communities is calling on local gardeners, farmers, and food growing enthusiasts to take this passion and do a little more. Plant extra this year to help the one in five Arkansans who experience food insecurity. Area residents are often surprised to learn that there are families in Ozarkansas struggling to put food on the table. However, the reality is that more than 65,000 people in Washington and Benton counties alone face food insecurity each year. More than 40 percent of these households don’t qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. These benefits are used to help purchase food, and without them families are forced to rely heavily on local programs. In Northwest Arkansas, food pantries and meal programs take on a large responsibility in meeting this need.

Staff and volunteers involved with these food pantries and meal programs work hard to provide food essentials to thousands of families each month. The majority of food pantries distribute shelf stable items such as canned or bulk foods. While these are essential staples, they often come packed with added sugars, sodium, and other ingredients that can exacerbate existing health conditions. As such, more and more food pantries are beginning to explore ways to make fresh produce readily available.

“If you give [clients] a choice between fresh versus canned or frozen vegetables, they always pick fresh,” says Kimberly Porter, executive director of CARE Community Center in Rogers. “It’s nice to provide something families consider a luxury. Fresh produce should not be a luxury.”

Unfortunately, for many food pantries and meal programs, fresh produce is a luxury, making it an extravagance for the families they serve as well. While many programs in this region are making strides to ensure fresh produce is available, there is still a long way to go. By increasing access to healthy fruits and vegetables for our community, from our community, Plant A Row is exploring an approach that can help meet this need.

Started by an Alaskan newspaper garden columnist in 1995, Plant A Row is now a national campaign that impacts millions of lives. The Plant A Row initiative has encouraged and helped American gardeners to donate produce. From a simple request to grow extra for someone in need, individual community members who pledged to do their part to help alleviate hunger have grown more than 20 million pounds of food. This translates into more than 80 million meals in its 20 years of operation.

“All this has been achieved without government subsidy or bureaucratic red tape – just people helping people,” according to the Garden Writers Association website, which operates the program with the association’s foundation.

Feed Communities is launching a local Plant A Row chapter to continue the effort of people helping people. This local initiative is calling for members of the community to come together, for neighbors to help neighbors, and for everyone to think about the one in five Arkansans struggling with hunger.

“We at Feed Communities see a huge need to increase the amount of healthy produce available to food insecure families,” says Ken Patterson, executive director. “Gardening gives us all a personal opportunity to address this issue. We can all do a small part to help solve hunger in our Ozarkansas community.”

Feed Communities is looking for individuals, families, or agencies interested in growing a bit of extra produce. Getting involved includes taking a simple pledge, and anyone can join the initiative – whether they barely have a green thumb, are a recreational backyard gardener, or are running a large farm operation. Please pledge to plant a little extra, tend the garden a bit more, and harvest a portion for families in need. Feed Communities will coordinate and assist with distribution to make the donation process as easy as possible and to quickly get produce into the hands of those who need it.

Growing an extra row, raised bed, or container of food can go a long way in helping those in the community who struggle with hunger. It can turn tomatoes into outreach, make growing peppers into growing community, and allow individuals to give back in the best of ways – by getting their hands dirty in the garden.

Want to get involved?

For more information and to learn how you can take the pledge to Plant A Row, contact Kayla Norbash at knorbash@feedcommunities.org, or visit Feed Communities’ website.

Article from Edible Ozarkansas at http://edibleozarkansas.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/plant-row-growing-food-initiative
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