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Plant a Row for the Hungry

Many farmers donate extra produce at the end of the Farmer's Market Day

The old joke goes that if you don’t lock your car doors in August you’ll  return and find the back seat filled with zucchini.  You might be happy about this if you don’t have a vegetable garden, after all zucchini is a versatile vegetable that can be used in a number of delicious ways, is nutritious supplying protein, vitamins A and C and numerous other good elements but no cholesterol, and contains only 20 calories per one cup serving.  All free, thanks to the gardener who left the zucchini in your car.

Of course, if  you have a vegetable garden and a substantial zucchini harvest of your own you might feel overwhelmed.  There is an answer to the zucchini problem, and indeed the problem of too much produce of any sort.  Many gardeners enjoy an overabundance of summer produce. The beans or tomatoes or broccoli can ripen so fast and furiously all at the same moment that we find ourselves unable to do all the freezing or canning we resolved to do in the days of early summer.

For every gardener who has extra produce, there is a person who is in need of healthy food.  It is not hard to get the two together. One in ten families in the U.S. including 13 million children suffer from food insecurity, never knowing if their food supply will last out the week.

Our Franklin County area has its share of hungry families, but it also has a number of food pantries and meal sites that serve hundreds of families who do not have enough to eat. Each organization is happy to accept a head of broccoli, a bag of green beans, a bunch of beets or whatever excess harvest a gardener might have

For years I have talked about the Plant a Row for the Hungry program that was launched by the Garden Writers Association in 1995. Over the years gardeners have donated over 14 million pounds of their surplus produce to food pantries and soup kitchens in their neighborhoods. This is not a government program, it is all about people helping their neighbors.

While Plant A Row (PAR) is the official title of this project not everyone literally plants a row of vegetables that is specifically intended for a food pantry.  Many people just know that they will have extra and plan to give that extra to the nearest food site. Sometimes a group of people will work together to plant vegetables.  For the third year the Charlemont Federated Church is planting a squash patch where lawn used to grow. That harvest ends up in the autumn Good Neighbors Food Distribution.

Dino Schnelle, Director of the Center for Self Reliance on Osgood Street in Greenfield, says that he knows of more than 700 pounds of produce that was donated last summer. “Our center got a lot of celeriac last year. I don’t know why. It was very unfamiliar to most of us, but we gave people recipes, some as simple as a slaw, and it just flew out of here,” he said.

Celeriac is one of those root vegetables that doesn’t look like much. It is all knobby and needs a fair amount of peeling, but it is prized for its subtle celery taste, both in cooked dishes or raw. “Whatever people bring in, we’ll find a home for,” Schnelle added.

Ev Hatch didn’t stop at Planting a Row last spring. Along with a crew from the First Congregational Church of Greenfield, he planted half an acre with tomatoes, summer and winter squash, cucumbers and peppers. When the harvest started coming in volunteers arrived early in the morning on scheduled harvest days and the different food pantries like the Survival Center in Turners Falls and others took their turn at pick up. When the last winter squash was picked Schnelle calculates that over 10 tons of vegetables were distributed around the county.

I always have seeds left over after I finish planting my vegetable garden, even allowing for the succession planting I hope to do.  I can use them in my own Row for the Center for Self Reliance. I’ve already paid for the seeds, and I always have a little extra space.  What about you? How many children can you help feed this summer?

I’ll be talking about the Plant a Row project as the growing season progresses.

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No one lives by zucchini or green bean alone. The Deerfield Summer Craft Festival scheduled for June 18 and 19 is holding a Vintage Container Contest. Whether you choose a handsome traditional container or a shabby chic container, possibly an unusual container never intended to hold plants, you have a chance to win a prize. Call Marcia at 772-7476 extension 17 for an entry form.

Containers must be brought to the old Deerfield Teacher’s Center on Memorial Street on Thursday, June 17 between 4 and 6 PM. Judging will be done on Saturday and winners announced on Sunday morning. Prizes include gift certificates from Megan’s Valley Garden and Landscaping, Annie’s Garden Center and Five Acre Farm. Greenhouses. Entries can be picked up the week after the Festival.

What plants would you include in a container that will be on display all weekend in the historic town of Deerfield?     ###

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