Just One Thing: Plant-a-Row to Alleviate Hunger

By now, you’ve probably heard the reports that Americans are going hungry. In Michigan one in EIGHT people currently receives food stamps – twice as many as in 2000. Mostly, it’s related to fuel prices, directly or indirectly, and the rising cost of food, which is related to fuel prices and the push to grow corn to put in our gas tanks. I’m going to leave off the rant about these “whys” for now and get back to the bit about people going hungry.

These are not bad people or stupid people. They’re just hungry. Groceries – and especially healthy foods – somehow seem “optional” when the mortgage man suddenly asks for another $200/month and it now costs you a day’s wages to drive to work each week.

So what are we going to do to help? Our money’s not going as far these days, either, so it’s hard to find cash for charity. But most of the people who read this blog have a garden, right? I say we all Plant a Row for the Hungry. This project was started several years ago by members of the Garden Writer’s Association, and now has branches all over the US. The idea is simple: when you’re planning your garden, plant an extra row of crops destined for a local food shelter. It’s not that much more work for you (and gardening is fun, right?) and someone else gets to take vegetables home from the food bank instead of Mac-n-cheese.

In Ann Arbor, take your food to Food Gatherers (directions). This is the central clearinghouse for literally hundreds of non-profit food-distribution agencies in Washtenaw county – and something like 120 of them have the facilities to handle fresh produce. Growing Hope in Ypsilanti has a strong partnership with both Plant-a-Row and Food Gatherers. If you’re in the Detroit/SE Michigan area, I believe Gleaners Community Food Bank takes produce. Folks in other areas – if you’d like to list your local food banks that take produce, you can do so here in the comments.

Plan to plant crops that are nutrient-dense and easy to transport: hard squash (like butternut), potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, greens (kale, collards, chard), carrots, peppers, beets, green beans, and apples. Tomatoes, alas, are too squishy and zucchini aren’t all *that* nutritious, so they are not preferred…thought I doubt they’d turn it down completely.

I’m setting a goal of 500 lb. of food to go to Food Gatherers this year. Ok, close your slack jaws and listen to my reasoning here: I grew 65 lb of butternut squash from 4 plants on about 12 sf of dirt last year. (The vines ran out of the raised beds for quite a distance, but they didn’t take up more than half of one of my smallest garden beds). And that included eating an equal number of squash at an immature stage because I didn’t know what I was going to do with all that squash. So I’ll plant four butternut plants, let that all grow to maturity, let me keep a few, and I should be able to clear 100 lb of squash to the food bank.

I’ll also grow chard again, which is beautiful, but I can’t eat nearly as much as I grow in just 3-4 plants. Another good candidate! If I harvest it regularly, it’ll just pump out more leaves. Even though it’s light, I bet I can easily grow dozens of pounds of it. I’m also planting oh-my-god pole beans this year, about 30 square feet on *proper* supports. I figure my yields could easily triple from last year, when I grew only bush beans. So perhaps another 50 lb there.

But the other big-weight item will be apples. It’s my mission to “rescue” a couple hundred pounds of apples from trees in my neighborhood this summer and fall. I can think of half a dozen apple trees within half a mile of me – and another half-dozen in one yard across town, and I don’t think any of them really get harvested. Even without treatment, there have to be *some* good apples on these trees, and I plan to approach homeowners to see if they’ll let me harvest them and get them into the hands of people who need them. This is a big wildcard – how many unblemished apples will I realistically be able to pick? Maybe not 350 lb…but maybe so. That’s only 7-8 bushels, so that’s where I’m setting my goal.

And who knows…maybe this year I’ll finally plant a “tower” of potatoes. Supposedly you can grow 100lb of potatoes in a 4′ cube (hmm, old packing pallets?) and I’m going to be ordering dirt this year so I’ll finally have something to fill the cube with…

Ahem. So we’ve established that I’m crazy serious about feeding people. You don’t need to sign on for anything like these quantities…but will you sign on? Who’s with me to do this one thing: to grow an extra bit of something and take it to the food bank? Set yourself a goal, in servings perhaps. How many servings of vegetables do you think you could spare this year?



  1. TeacherPatti said,

    April 6, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    I’m in, Emily. I can also donate extra food from my CSA.
    What’s this about growing potatoes? I have a plot from Project Grow and should have room for something like that…for some reason, I thought that growing potatoes was really hard. But then again, there is much about gardening that I don’t know!

    PS: We start our food unit in 2 weeks at school 🙂

  2. Ken said,

    April 7, 2008 at 8:31 am

    *hugs and love and admiration*

    I’ll have to look into what kinds of arrangements our local food bank has for produce.

    Squash, huh? I wonder if it’ll grow in the back garden that might have gone fallow this year…

  3. Emily said,

    April 7, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Patti: Potatoes are not hard to grow if you have plenty of decent (even somewhat sandy) dirt. They are tremendously productive – they give the most calories per acre of any food. (That’s why the Irish were relying on them so heavily at the time of the Potato Famine. The English had decreed that all lands must be split equally among sons upon the father’s death, so farms were getting smaller and smaller, and the only way you could grow enough to feed a family was to grow potatoes and not much else.)

    Ken: You could certainly set a few squash plants loose in the back and be pleasantly surprised with the results. You probably wouldn’t even need to water them much, unless we get a really dry summer. I can set you up with seeds…

  4. Emily said,

    April 7, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Ken – I think you’re covered through Catholic Social Services. They do “dry and cold storage” at their facility: http://www.springfieldcatholicsocialservices.org/foodbank.htm

    Anyone else looking for a food bank to donate to can start at the food bank locater from Second Harvest.

  5. Momster said,

    April 7, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    I’ll do beans!

  6. Emily said,

    April 12, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Well, shoot. I just talked to my dealer edible landscape expert and he said that in this area, there are so many apple trees – and therefore apple pests, diseases, and fungus – it’s almost impossible to find sound apples on an untended tree. Up north, you might find 50% of the apple untouched, but down here, you’d be lucky to find any apples at all not inhabited by a worm or scab. So the apple plan is out. I probably have to reduce my goal to 200 or 250lb, unless the potatoes really take off!

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