Plant a Row for the Hungry program provides produce
By Stephanie Choate
As tomatoes redden, zucchinis swell and beans multiply, locals who visit the Williston Community Food Shelf can look forward to an influx of fresh, local produce.
The Plant a Row for the Hungry program, organized by University of Vermont Extension master gardeners and Williston in Bloom members, is getting into full swing. The group, which has a plot in the Williston Community Gardens, began making deliveries to the food shelf earlier this month.
Gardener June Jones, who leads the project with fellow Williston gardener Susan Stanne, said the season is off to a slow start due to cool weather in the spring and early summer, but that it’s about to ramp up.
Many food shelf customers get a carb-heavy load, and they appreciate fresh produce, Jones said.
“One little girl, I gave her a watermelon and she was just thrilled,” she said. “Fresh vegetables are a treat.”
“There’s nothing like fresh tomatoes,” added Stanne.
The project is a community effort. The town donates the space in the community gardens and rototills it in the spring and fall. American Meadows, located in Williston, donates seeds. The group uses burlap coffee sacks from Green Mountain Coffee as mulch, keeping the weeds at bay and upkeep to a minimum. At the end of the season, they bring the biodegradable bags to Green Mountain Compost. The gardeners also received a grant this year from the Vermont Community Garden Network, netting them seeds, along with compost from Green Mountain Compost.
Local Daisy girl scouts have helped harvest and deliver produce to the food shelf, and especially relish picking pole beans, Stanne said.
A core group of five local gardeners start the seeds, transplant seedlings, tend the plants and bring the bounty to the food shelf.
This year, the group planted 38 tomato plants and 26 sweet pepper plants, along with zucchini, summer squash, pole beans and bush beans, carrots, beets, cucumbers and watermelon.
Since the program began in 2006 as a joint effort between the Williston Observer and the town of Williston, it has provided thousands of pounds of produce. In 2013, the Plant a Row gardens yielded 542 pounds of produce for the food shelf.
“The Plant a Row contributions to the Food Shelf have been such a blessing for the last few years, as it allows us to provide beautiful locally grown fresh produce to our clients who otherwise may not be able to afford it,” Food Shelf President Cathy Michaels said. “The donations are generous and very much needed at this time of year when our donations are down and the need is up.”
Food Shelf volunteers incorporate the produce into their new Fresh Initiative Program, intended to help families make healthy food choices. Each month, a fruit or vegetable is highlighted as the food of the month, and the food shelf provides recipes featuring the produce.
Residents who want to help harvest produce for the food shelf can meet in the garden at 5 p.m. each Tuesday. Locals with excess produce in their own gardens—or those who want to share what they have—can bring it to the food shelf, located on the basement floor of 300 Cornerstone Drive, in Suite 115.
“The generosity of the Plant-a-Row program and our neighbors who donate produce from their individual gardens is always greatly appreciated as it helps us provide healthy, whole foods we cannot otherwise provide outside these summer months,” Michaels said.