Giving Back: Planting for Food Pantries

Your favorite hobby can help the most vulnerable in your community.
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Raised Garden Beds in a Community Garden

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The best part of gardening is the abundant harvest.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

The best part of gardening is the abundant harvest.

Gardeners Are Highly Capable Individuals

Gardeners have a wonderfully useful skill set. Not only can we make our yards the envy of the neighborhood and build cozy wildlife habitats, but we can also feed our families the freshest fruits and veggies of the best varieties. The habits that can sometimes seem a bit odd to our non-gardening friends are looked upon a bit differently when harvest time comes around. Sharing our produce is another gratifying part of this lifestyle. We have a lot to be proud of and thankful for. So what’s next? 


A chance encounter with a homeless man inspired garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels to do something more. After denying the man’s request for spare change on a cold night in Washington D.C., Mr. Lowenfels’ conscience was restless. On his flight back to Alaska, as he wrote his next column, he outlined an idea for his readers to donate a portion of their garden harvest to a local soup kitchen. This idea would be the seed that grew into what is now the Garden Writers Association’s initiative called Plant A Row For The Hungry. Twenty years after its 1995 inception, Plant A Row For The Hungry boasts more than 2 million pounds of garden fresh produce donated each year to a broad diversity of community organizations throughout the country by backyard gardeners. But there is still work to be done. 


Hunger in America may not always be evident, but it is very much present. According to a 2008 USDA Economic Research Report, 8.5 million Americans live in households where they skip meals, eat too little and sometimes go without food for a whole day; and more than 24.5 million people live in households that are at risk of hunger because of lower quality diets or necessarily seeking emergency food because they cannot afford the food they need. Hunger occurs in every community. When we support our local food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters with donations of fresh produce, we provide essential nutrients that are lacking in the diets of the poor. By doing so, we help combat chronic nutrient deficiencies in poor children that could otherwise lead to serious health problems including impaired cognitive development, anemia, physical weakness and growth failure. 

Get Involved

Getting involved in this movement is easy. Simply grow a bit more in your garden than you need, and donate the extra produce. If you don’t have a place to garden, a few containers on the balcony can produce a considerable amount or you can check out community gardens in your area. Some community gardens are donation gardens that give away everything they grow; all you have to do is plug yourself in as a volunteer. Not sure what to grow? Leafy greens are a good place to start because they grow easily almost anywhere, and are highly nutritious. It never hurts to call your local food pantry before growing to see what is in high demand. 

Where To Give

As the movement to donate fresh produce developed, many donation centers, built to distribute non perishable foods, were not prepared to handle these items and had to refuse them. In recent years it has become much easier to find an accepting location, but you should still know the destination before heading out with a carload of fresh produce for donation. was started in order to reduce food waste by connecting would-be donors with organizations that need donations of fresh produce. Simply visit their website, plug in your zip code, and it will generate a list of organizations in your area that need what you have to offer. 

You'll Be Glad You Did

With little effort beyond the joyful work of gardening, it is possible to make an enormous difference in the lives of people who desperately need it. Using a bit of your garden space to plant a row for the hungry is a way to share your unique skills; building your community into a more secure, healthy place to live.

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