Grow It in Maine

Maine Harvest for Hunger 2013

Posted:  Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 9:00am

Why grow a food garden, anyway?

Really fresh vegetables are better for our health and can often keep us from illness and sadness. They taste good, too.

There’s also what sociologists would call “food insecurity” throughout our state among a percentage of our kids, of our older residents and the rest of us.

The University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, with its Master Gardeners, is now addressing the situation. Named Harvest for Hunger, the project encourages local gardeners to grow extra vegetables along with their own crops, to take to local food pantries, soup kitchens or hungry friends in town or down the road.

Before they give the carrots, beets or cabbages, they weigh their donations and report the weights to the person who’s coordinating the results.   

That’s only a part of the plan. Extra fruit from an orchard or strawberry patch would count as a donation. Gleanings from already picked-over fields, or from farmers’ markets at the end of a sales day would count as well. The gardener should bring a cooler (with ice), bags or boxes for transportation.

If a kind farmer has harvested enough for that day’s market, local gleaners (including retired people) can help clean fields; for surely, there may be edible leftover vegetables to find.

Where did this idea begin?

At the end of the last century, in Anchorage, Alaska, Jeff Lowenfels learned that Beans, a restaurant for people with little money, needed help.       

Jeff, a member of Garden Writers Association of America, began a campaign for local food gardeners to raise and donate some of their crops for the restaurant. He called it “Plant a Row for Beans,” and it was an early success.

Next, he pitched the idea to the Garden Writers. When the name changed to “Plant a Row for the Hungry,” the scheme was taken up throughout the U.S. The University of Maine’s Master Gardeners took it on; it worked well, here.

But Maine wanted to do more to meet the needs of its residents. The project grew into our current Maine Harvest for Hunger. The scope of its work has broadened as it continues to explore how best to supply food to those who need it.

Fifteen of our 16 counties now take part in Harvest for Hunger. One can plant an extra row of vegetables in one’s home plot, or share space with somebody who is getting a little too old for using that great big growing space.

Community gardens may be dedicated to local use; or a grower may use an individual allotment just to supply a food pantry or soup kitchen.

To learn more, contact the University of Maine’s Extension office on Manktown Road, Waldoboro, across from Medomak Valley High School. Call 1-200-244-2104 and explain what you want. Ask for Liz Stanley.

Why grow a food garden? For yourself, for your parents, your nation, even for the peace of the world. You should have some crops for a soup kitchen, some for a local food pantry or your hungry neighbors and to create for yourself, perhaps, yourself. Grow it, then … Harvest for Hunger.