Gardening for the hungry

I've been chatting lately with Dawn Israel, a gardener in the Nashville, TN area involved in a program in her area to donate produce to her local food bank. We thought Dawn's story of her own group's efforts was worth sharing, and asked her to write about it for Gardenaut. What we think you'll find as intriguing as we do is the fact that they have created both a public service organization that has a real impact on their local community and a resource for themselves and others as gardeners.

My family and I live just sound of Nashville and are grateful to have the luxury of a huge yard in which we can garden. We have lived here almost 5 years and this year we are planting our third vegetable garden and it gets larger each year! Though my husband and I both have some faint recollections of gardens at our parents’ homes, we are basically learning as we go.

In addition to gardening for our family, we also participate in a group called "Just Crumbs." This is a small group that grew from the heart of a local organic farmer, Freddie Haddox, and a handful of folks at a small church and their desire to share fresh, nutritious food with others in need. Originally, Freddie designated a portion of his farm to be worked by others with the fruits of the labor to be donated to a community ministry for distribution. We began participating by donating vegetables grown in our backyard about the same time we started really gardening.

As frequently happens, circumstances have changed over the past few years and so has this group of gardeners. Though the church that initially handled donations closed, the gardeners decided to continue meeting and growing veggies to share. For many of us, traveling to the farm to work was not easy, so now most of us do what we can in our own gardens and take our harvests by special arrangement to the food bank at GraceWorks for distribution. The leaders at GraceWorks have indicated that the people they serve truly appreciated the gift of fresh food. Sometimes, our donations were given directly to someone we knew that was going through a hard time and needed food.

Not everyone participates by growing things - some of our members help by working in our garden, delivering the vegetables, saving bags or containers for the produce, encouraging us, and providing advice from decades of experience. Anyone in our community that is interested is welcome to participate. Though we are a small group and last year we battled incredible drought, high temperatures and more animals than usual, we donated several hundred pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons, hot peppers, herbs, and lots of other fresh foods to those that might otherwise go without them.

As my husband recently said, Just Crumbs is a way to learn to grow food, ourselves, our family and relationships, as well an opportunity to give to others out of the abundance with which we are blessed. I would encourage anyone interested to investigate opportunities for sharing in their own community. There is likely a food bank, ministry, or soup kitchen that would welcome your donations and individuals that you may never meet who would be grateful. As most of you would probably agree, there is nothing like a meal with homegrown food.

I am happy to be able to contribute to Gardenauts and am looking forward to learn what others are doing in their own gardens. If you have any questions or if there's any way I can help you to begin something similar, please let me know and I will do my best.

Best wishes and happy gardening!

One way to get started providing similar assistance in your own area is by teaming up with Plant A Row for the Hungry, a group that can help you launch a local project coordinating local gardeners to contribute a portion of their harvest to your local food bank.