Feeding the hungry, one row at a time

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

First-grader Eliza Willoughby lends a hand in the UVM Extension Master Gardener section of the Williston Community Garden on June 5. Her mother, Heidi Willoughby, is in the final training stages of the EMG program. (Observer photos by Luke Baynes)

The concept of the Plant a Row for the Hungry program is simple: if you plant, plant an extra row in your garden for those in need.

Plant a Row, a national public service program launched in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association, was adopted by the Williston community in 2006. The program is a collaboration between Williston members of the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener program, the Williston Department of Parks and Recreation and the Williston Observer. Produce from Williston’s Plant a Row program was initially donated to food pantries in St. George and Hinesburg before Williston founded its own food shelf in 2008.

Cathy Michaels, president of the Williston Community Food Shelf, expressed appreciation for community support over the years.

“The families are always very, very thankful to receive fresh veggies due to the cost of buying them in the stores,” Michaels wrote in an email to the Observer. “The veggies often disappear quickly, and what is left is refrigerated until the next shift.”

Food Shelf volunteer Ruth McGill said the program is based on the honor system.

“We just trust that people who need it are coming,” McGill said.

In addition to produce from local residents who plant an extra row in their home gardens, the Food Shelf receives fresh fruit and veggies from local Master Gardeners who work a section of the Williston Community Garden that is donated by the town.

Veteran Master Gardener June Jones said the initiative is entirely volunteer-based and relies on a rotating group of green thumbs.

“You never know how many people are going to show up, but, as a rule, over the summer, we seem to get seven people showing up to work, except it isn’t always the same people,” said Jones.

Williston Director of Parks and Recreation Kevin Finnegan said the last of the Community Garden’s 25 plots was rented on May 30. He noted that while it isn’t a requirement for people to donate their excess produce from Community Garden plots to the Food Shelf, it’s strongly encouraged.

“I think most people are pretty good at giving their overages to the Food Shelf,” Finnegan said.

Jones observed that despite a decrease in the amount of produce harvested last year, the program continues to evolve.

“You learn from each other, that’s what I like about it,” said Jones. “No matter how much gardening you’ve done, when you work with different people you learn something new from them because they do it a different way or know something that you haven’t learned yet.”

The Williston Community Food Shelf—located at 300 Cornerstone Drive, Suite 115—is open Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.