Make Harvest for Hunger a garden priority

Posted Jan. 22, 2011, at 12:13 a.m.

Deep into January, as we watch the male cardinal hop about the porch deck looking for sunflower seeds while the dogs and cat sleep away the day in front of the wood stove, Marjorie and I discuss resolutions for the coming year, thoughts that reveal the fabric of our lives, interwoven threads of family, community, teaching, reading, writing and, of course, gardening. Many of our resolutions are centered in the garden.

At the top of the list: Our family will grow food for the hungry in our community, continuing our involvement with the Maine Harvest for Hunger Project (formerly Plant-A-Row for the Hungry) coordinated through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program. We will fulfill this resolution by donating a portion of our harvest to the local food pantry. I can think of no better way to develop a sense of place and citizenship, of caring for community members in need.

And the need is great. Many Maine residents are food-insecure, with limited or uncertain access to nutritious, safe foods. According to the Maine-based Good Shepherd Food-Bank (http://gsfb.org/hunger/hunger_statistics.php):

• 13.3 percent of Maine households, representing more than 175,000 people, experience food insecurity or are unable to consistently access adequate amounts of nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.

• 19.5 percent of Maine children under the age of 18 are food-insecure.

• 18.8 percent of Maine children under the age of 5 are food-insecure.

• Maine ranks ninth in the nation for food insecurity and has the highest food insecurity ranking of any state in New England.

• Many Mainers who are food-insecure report choosing between purchasing food or paying for other necessities such as fuel, rent and medicine.

Several factors contribute to these alarming statistics, including income growth that is outpaced by the increasing cost of living, high level of underemployment and rising unemployment.

As you start planning for the coming garden year, consider helping hungry people in your community by contributing a portion of your harvest. Begin by contacting your local food pantry or soup kitchen to find out which garden crops are most needed, then dedicate a portion of your garden to growing those crops. Harvest ripe, high-quality produce, clean it, and deliver it on the day of harvest. If you have associated your efforts with the Maine Harvest for Hunger, you will also want to weigh your cleaned produce at each harvest date so that your contribution can be included in the total harvest.

While you do not need to become involved with the Maine Harvest for Hunger Program in order to donate food, there are advantages to doing so. Depending on the county in which you garden, benefits may include expert gardening advice from trained Master Gardener Volunteers, donations of seeds for the portion of your garden involved in the project, and information on the locations of food pantries and soup kitchens in your immediate area. Most importantly, you will be involved with like-minded members of your community, all working to eliminate food insecurity in your community. To connect with your local University of Maine Cooperative Extension Office, begin here: http://extension.umaine.edu/gardening/programs/plant-a-row/.

Above all, involve the children in the growing, in the harvesting, weighing and record keeping, in delivery of fresh nutritious food to those in need. Nothing will contribute more to ending hunger in our communities than making our children aware of the need while teaching them how to grow their own healthy food.

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