Growing Community in Your Garden

Spring is here…unless you live in Western Pennsylvania!  There are signs of it already.  New grass trying to pop through the snow (yes, we have snow still at times), birds singing and warmer weather keeps making it’s way into the weekly forecast.  Springtime brings the itching want to begin one’s garden.  Flower gardens are great, but for me personally, vegetable gardens are even better!  Those of us who garden, and eat our efforts, are antsy while waiting for the right time to start germinating and preparing our garden for cold plants to kick off the season.

If you are like me and you grow a vegetable garden, who do you feed with your garden?  Your household?  Your extended family?  A neighbor?  Home gardens used to be common.  But as the need for two incomes became the norm, who had time?  Buying food at the grocery store became the norm, and downright easier most of the time.

Backyard gardening offers a whole slue of benefits, including:  healthier eating, more cost-effective, close proximity, and relaxation to name a few.

With the farm to table movement that has swept the United States, backyard gardening for food has increased rapidly over the last decade.  And it doesn’t appear to be stopping.

There is a strong need to know…where is our food coming from?

An easy answer, is your own backyard.

Managing Extras
Assuming you garden on some scale, by the end of the summer, you can get burnt out on tomatoes, or any vegetable that you planted too much of.  I know we found ourselves being swamped with a ton of tomatoes and zucchini this past year.  They seem to be prolific vegetables for everyone.  What do you do with them?  Sometimes, it seems, you can’t give them away.  Or can you?

I’ve spent time over the years volunteering at our local food cupboard.  The amount of donations, monetary and food, that it takes to keep it running is amazing.  Actually, it makes you want to help out more.

The argument given most often to helping a local organization like this is, “But I’m so busy.”  Understood, who isn’t?  “But I don’t have extra money to give.”  Understood, we all can be strapped for cash at points in our life.  In fact, that could be the reason you garden, to give yourself a reprieve on finances.

But what if you could help out buy donating what you have too much of?  Too much of, like extra vegetables or fruits from your garden?

After contacting some of the food cupboards around my immediate area, and some closer to the nearest city (approximately 45 minutes from us), I found that in fact most of them accept fresh fruits and vegetables from backyard gardens.  If they did not, typically it was  due to improper storage facilities.

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Two little helpers at a local food cupboard helping distribute the monthly donations.

Fresh Please!
Food drives, food rescues, purchasing food and food banks are the most common ways for food pantries or food banks to stock their shelves.  Some of those options require money, and some require man power.  In our region we have an app for that.  The 412 Food Rescue is a local organization that allows you to have access food rescued and utilized to feed those in need around the city.  Donations, if dropped off, can be among the easiest for organizations to stock their program.

When hosting food drives the plan and call is always to bring non-perishable foods.  There are many reasons behind that.  One being, as previously mentioned, storage.  Without proper storage you will lose donated quickly.  Staffing can be another issue.  If help is short, it may take longer to have food being transported from a food drive location to the actual distribution point.  Lastly, time.  Non-perishables have a longer shelf life.  Depending on the food bank or cupboard, they may only have a once a month distribution night.  The food needs to last, not only until then, but beyond.

However, realistically some of the perishable foods are the healthiest for us.  Fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats.  Let’s face it, those are typically what are the most expensive parts of any shopping trip.

 

So, why not plan ahead and find a local organization to work with.  Be sure to take the time to at least call and confirm with the food cupboards in your area before simply showing up.  Most food cupboards have specific days for distribution, and before that, you want to make sure they except what you’re offering.

You’ll want to plan accordingly, to ensure the freshness of the produce you’re bringing.  You won’t buy old or aging vegetables from the grocery store and nobody will pick it up at a food cupboard either.

Make sure that if you can’t drop it off on the requested day, that you make the necessary arrangements.  As mentioned, not all food pantries have refrigeration equipment to hold produce overnight.

Ironically, when people think of they can donate, most of the time it’s non-perishable foods.  But, with diabetes growing to 33% of households and obesity being a combating issue for many people, certain foods are better than others.  By donations being less processed foods, food pantries and cupboards have a better chance to provide healthier food to their clients.

Again, this is where your garden comes in.  What is less processed then something being picked directly from your garden?

Joining In
More and more companies are making a commitment to limit there excess and lower the pain of hunger to those in need.  Larger companies, including Panera Bread, Campbell Soup and Kraft Heinz Company, are all stepping up their efforts to help the needs of those fighting hunger.

Even those in non-traditional positions to help fight hunger are stepping up.  An Ohio hatchery is offering a free Meal Maker for any order, on the honor code you’ll provide the meat or eggs from the additional chicken to those in your community in need.

The more the local community gets involved, the more likely a food cupboard is able to serve and thrive in helping those around them in need.

With the garden season just around the corner, I dare you to think  larger this year.  Think beyond your garden, your family, your yard.

Think of those you could feed if you simply planted one more plant, one additional type of vegetable, one extra row in your garden that you designated to your local community.

If you are already working in your garden, how much more does it truly take?

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Your extras could bring fresh food to those in your neighborhood.

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