Even though I’ve got only myself to feed this year, I’ve planted a full garden, so I’m probably going to be taking donated produce to one of our local food pantries.
Food pantries like more of less. Don’t bring them a couple heads of lettuce, a bunch of basil, 4 beets, a half pound of green beans, 2 eggplants, 3 peppers and 6 tomatoes. Bring them 20 pounds of kale and 40 tomatoes. They have a lot of people to feed.
Growing and planting are the obvious parts of these kinds of programs. Defining the “giving” is trickier because the program gives the gardener so much as well. I’ve seen it in the faces of the dozens of volunteers who show up in droves every time we have a Grow2Give workday.
Volunteers aren’t just putting plants into the ground; they work hard. Since Peterson Garden Project started Grow2Give in 2010, hundreds of volunteers at 7 gardens have collectively laid out and filled more than 70 4×6-foot plots. They’ve hauled and leveled 2,500 square yards of mulch. The volunteers have planted hundreds of heirloom tomato plants, 240 corn stalks, thousands of beans and carrots, a couple dozen pumpkin and squash, plus cucumbers, melons, native pollinating plants, and more.
And they feel like they are the ones who have been given the gift.
There are so many reasons to participate in food pantry programs. One volunteer watched a homeless man pick up the mulberries off the sidewalk to eat and was compelled to find a way to volunteer with a food security program. Another volunteered as a way to fulfill service hours for a traffic violation; he figured working with Grow2Give was a more meaningful thing to do with his time than watching a video for traffic school.
So many volunteers have told me stories about their dismay with our toxic food culture. Several were inspired by Mayor Emanuel’s vow to eliminate food deserts in Chicago.
Even if you’re not part of a regular program like Grow2Give, you can “grow to give,” as well. Think about sharing your bounty. If you’re like me, you’re growing more than you need.
If you garden at a different garden, or in your own backyard, then Plant a Row to donate. Food pantries like produce that is easy to store, like tomatoes, peppers, beans, carrots, turnips, etc.
Grow to give. It gives right back.