I drove up the gravel path with the sign that said, "Staff Only Beyond This Point," as I knew to do, even though I'm not Staff, because I had been there before. And then, there it was. A greenhouse, hoop house, and the 14,000-square foot hidden jewel--a community garden/urban farm called the Unity Garden, built and maintained with money from a Kaiser Permanent grant, where 100% of what is grown (5,000 pounds a year) is donated to a local food pantry.
Corporate teams (such as Autotrader.com and UPS) come to help on volunteer work days, and more are encouraged to do so ( contact Libby Lintel here ). Other groups and individual volunteers come to help plant, tend, and harvest. I came to help for a bit, and to learn. What is the ethnic makeup of your food pantry clientele? Are there any crops that have proven to be particularly culturally appropriate? What are your harvest strategies, including post-harvest washing, storage and delivery? What are your challenges?
I already know the challenges of the local food pantry where we deliver from our community garden, and where we actually have a separate garden specifically for the food pantry clients (which is where we are doing the Plant a Row 2012 ).
* I know that there are many weeks when our food is the only fresh food they get.
For this week's Plant a Row recommendation for you, I suggest you:
* Find a local food pantry near you. In the United States, Feeding America is a great place to start. Chances are you have a large metro food bank in your city, which distributes to many small, local food pantries, often at places of worship. Search for contact info and send an email or call as recommended. Ask if you can visit (and help) on the days when food pantry clients are there. Watch. Listen. Learn. Pay particular attention to what the clients are getting in groceries so that you know what they will be mixing with the food you grow. Here is an example of what families at our local food pantry receive:
Miscellaneous: Canned goods:5 lbs of chicken Pork in BBQ sauce
Frozen peaches Vegetable soup
Loaf of bread Peas
Box of sweet rolls Spaghetti Sauce (2)
Orange juice Fruit
2 lbs macaroni Diced tomatoes
2 lbs rice Spaghetti/meatballs
2 lbs dried beans Applesauce
Mushroom soup Refried beans
Roll of TP Sliced potatoes
NOTE: Local groceries donate breads. At 16 cents per pound the food pantry buys most of its food from the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
* Find a garden or urban farm that is growing at least partially for those in need. Again, contact it and see what help is needed. Many have a set harvest day that lasts an hour or two. Help in some way. Pay attention to what is being grown, and ask questions about the food pantry clients and their likes and dislikes.
Then, take this information home with you and start thinking about your Plant a Row 2012. We're going to plan a planting strategy together next week, so do try to at least start this process. You don't have to finish it--in fact, ten years into this growing thing, and I'm still learning. Ten years from now, I'll say the same. There are so many people in need, from so many cultures, that there is much to learn. Basics matters: salad greens, cooking greens, tomatoes, peppers, squash. But it is also particularly gratifying to grow at least some of what's considered culturally-appropriate food for those in need because they cannot find these ingredients in the store and, even if they could, might not have the transportation to get there or the money to buy them. (For example, Libby told me a common Mexican herb named epazote was a big hit at their food pantry this summer. I haven't grown that yet, but now I will.)
My favorite moment yesterday was when Libby strolled confidently down one of the 100-foot rows with a big basket of okra resting on her hip as Michael McLane and I were giving major "hair cuts" to the herbs (and having extraordinarily enjoyable conversations--thanks, Michael), and she exclaimed, "I smell the thyme!"
And I replied out loud, "I like that. I smell the time. T-I-M-E." And as I drove down the gravel path, around the river, back to my city (where 30% of the children in our schools will get free or reduced lunch right now, today, and where about 100 families will line up at the food pantry this afternoon--there has been a 45% increase in need in 2011 over 2010 at our local food pantry-- see details here ), I smelled the thyme on my hands all the way home.
"I smell the time. I smell the time," I kept thinking.
I smell the time, and it is now, to get the basic info we need to make our time truly matter when we grow for (and with) those in need.
Take the time. Make the time. Grow the thyme.
Did you miss last week's action recommendation? See Choose a Method and Get Going (Growing) . I know of at least three other Plant a Rows that have started in the past two weeks. Dig in with us! (A special shout-out to corporate teams--do you have a spare strip of land on your corporate campus that might be perfect for this? As little as 4' x 100' will work wonders.)
If you'd rather donate a ton, right now, here's an easy way to make a difference where you live if it's fruit-tree-harvest-time in your growing zone: Shake a Tree and Share. It's as Easy as Pie.