Hunger is a national problem, but it is predisposed to a solution within the community. It cuts across geographical and cultural lines, affecting senior citizens, infants, schoolchildren, unemployed, underemployed and homeless everywhere. Estimates vary, but the possibility of as many as 35 million people worrying every day about where they will get their next meal are not excessive.
The members of the Garden Writers Association of America (GWAA) decided to address the problem of hunger in the North America. Alerted to the extent and pervasiveness of this problem by board member, Jeff Lowenfels, this 1600 member organization of professional garden communicators accepted the challenge to urge home gardeners to help feed America’s hungry. Jeff reasoned that, “GWAA communicators reach over 70 million gardeners in North America-it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the impact we could have on the hunger problem”.
Vegetable gardens produce an enormous amount of food. Anyone who has ever grown zucchini squash can testify to the abundance. Imagine the amount of food that could be produced if every gardener purposely planted more than he or she needed? If each gardener planted one extra row and donated the harvest to a local food bank, gardeners could make an enormous difference. GWAA imagined that, and the result was a commitment to galvanize gardening readers and viewers to grow and donate food. This campaign would be called Plant A Row for the Hungry, or PAR, for short. GWAA director, Jacqui Heriteau created the first PAR program including brochures and distribution. She continues to lead PAR as National Program Director. Her enthusiasm is contagious as she encourages and organizes individuals or groups to start local PAR campaigns.
The Plant A Row Campaign
Conceived at the outset as people-based, not institutional or bureaucratic, the success of PAR depends on the good will, time and energy of thousands of gardeners and gardening groups. It began with garden communicators, supported by their editors, radio and TV stations and employers alerting the public to the hunger problem in their region and explaining how they can help. They encouraged the planting of an extra row of vegetables through their newspaper columns, on their radio or TV shows, in garden club newsletters, church bulletins and public appearances-at every opportunity.
Corporate support for PAR campaigns was not long in coming. Soil amendment producer Fafard, Inc. of Anderson SC, contributes Plant A Row garden row markers for distribution to participating gardeners to promote the campaign. Many companies and publishers are supporting the effort by routinely putting the Plant A Row logo on their packaging and catalogs to create high visibility for the program. Nurseries and garden centers participate by offering Plant A Row brochures and row markers at check-out counters.
With experience and Jacqui Heriteau’s leadership, the program has grown. City-wide projects from Milwaukee to San Jose and state-wide projects in Missouri and South Carolina and others are underway. More and more groups such as schools and church congregations are participating. And, along the way garden writers have developed even more creative ways to spread the word.
An Amazing Success Story
Joan Jackson, garden columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, pioneered the PAR program among her readership and her California community set a fast pace early. With the support of her newspaper, she devoted many of her columns to describing the program and encouraging gardeners to sign a pledge to grow and contribute fresh produce. She published the addresses of collection sites, publicized the agencies that used the food and tallied the weight of the food contributions over the season. She printed the names of the donors and made appearances at garden related events.
The response was overwhelming. By September of the first year of her campaign readers had donated nearly 34,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables to area hunger relief agencies. Not one to rest on her laurels, Joan set about the following year to exceed that amount of fresh vegetables donated and each year she has. Her secret is to never let up. She says, “Mention Plant A Row at every opportunity.”
Making a difference
Over the years the Plant A Row effort has become increasingly successful nationwide at promoting and enlisting participation by gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Newsletters, word of mouth, a wonderful video hosted by Jim Wilson (former Executive Director of the National Garden Bureau, former president of GWAA and spokesman for PAR) have further stimulated public awareness and enthusiasm.
After four year’s, the donated food can be measured in tons. Non-gardeners have jumped on the bandwagon. They volunteer as drivers, serve at collection sites and weigh and pack the collected produce. They organize local programs and work with the media.
In 1999 several new sponsors have joined to expand the campaign. The National Garden Bureau has donated funds to continue the program and assisted with a international publicity program.
Lending its name and resources as a sponsor, Home & Garden Television (HGTV) brings media coverage since it is one of the nations fastest growing cable networks with over 51 million viewers. HGTV is committed to this ground-breaking public service campaign to feed the hungry. The Scotts Company promotes PAR on every box of Miracle-Gro fertilizer and Fafard, Inc promotes PAR on millions of soil amendment bags.
A Million for the Millennium is the now the goal. A million pounds of fresh vegetables grown in gardens and donated to food pantries to feed the hungry is an attainable goal. Spurred by the understanding that government efforts to restructure welfare is leaving many people without food stamps and that food pantries will be hard pressed to meet the increased need, garden writers are redoubling their efforts to encourage gardeners to Plant a Row for the Hungry.
Want to help?
To learn more about Plant A Row or GWAA:
• Visit the Plant A Row page on the GWAA website at www.gwaa.org
• For general information, a media kit or brochure call
TOLL FREE 1-877-GWAA-PAR or E-mail at PAR@GWAA.org
For a brochure, “Starting your own PAR Campaign” Contact Jacqui Heriteau, GWAA National Program Director of Plant A Row by Phone 860-824-0794; Fax 860-825-1018 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For membership information in GWAA, contact phone 703-257-1032, FAX 703-257-0213 or E-Mail email@example.com
To donate food:
• Call Foodchain, the national food rescue network 1-800-845-3008 for a local contact. Or Second
Harvest 1-800-771-2302 Ext. 121, Dan Michel.
• Contact local ministeriums, diocesan offices, United Way, Salvation Army or the local telephone book for agencies that serve the hungry.
To learn more about the National Garden BureauVisit the website at www.ngb.org