Plant a Row wraps up for the season10/30/08

Need for food assistance continues to grow

Oct. 30, 2008

By Greg Duggan

Observer staff

Participating in the Observer’s Plant a Row for the Hungry Program for the first time, one Williston resident used the experience to teach her children about hunger in the community.


    Courtesy photo by Meghan Cope
Sisters Eva, 7, and Lia Cote, 5, work in the family’s vegetable garden in July. The girls and their mother, Meghan Cope, participated in the Observer’s Plant a Row for the Hungry program for the first time this year.

Meghan Cope said her two daughters, ages 5 and 7, helped her plant the family’s vegetable garden. Once the veggies started to grow, the girls — Eva and Lia Cote — helped pick the lettuce, beans, zucchini, herbs, carrots, tomatoes and other crops and bring the vegetables to the Observer office each week.

“We talked about what we were doing and why,” Cope said.

Part of a national program created by the Garden Writers Association, Williston’s Plant a Row for the Hungry effort recently came to an end for the season. Each week starting at the beginning of the summer, residents brought pounds upon pounds of produce to the Observer office, which volunteers then drove to the Hinesburg Food Shelf every Friday morning.

Having moved to Williston from Essex in January, it was Cope’s first time participating in Plant a Row.

“Food is expensive, and it’s hard for families to be able to afford fresh vegetables,” Cope said she taught her daughters. “We grew because we had extra space, and it was easy for us to do and we wanted to support other families in the community.”

Not that residents needed to grow food to take part in Plant a Row.

“I learned about it from the Observer, read a little thing in the paper,” said Sue Scheer, who drove veggies to the food shelf each Friday in September. “I thought, ‘This is something I’d like to get involved with.’ I wasn’t in a position to plant or grow vegetables, but I could drive them somewhere.”

Participating for the first time this year, Scheer said just dropping off food served as an eye-opening experience — one that she wanted to share with her 7-year-old daughter. Though she never managed to take the girl out of school for a trip to the food shelf, Scheer believes such a visit would serve as a fantastic way to show kids that local families truly need help.

“Every time I went in there was lots of activity, lots of people, either there to receive items or people there working,” Scheer said. “It really broke my heart to see some of the recipients of the food. People that are really down and out, people that really needed help. It was a reality check for me, and wow, what do I want to say, it just opened my eyes.”

For others, who have been involved with Plant a Row for the past three years, the need for food is an ever-present thing, and one that has grown even more consuming in recent months.

“In spring and again in summertime, numbers were up 25 percent both times (over last year),” said Doug Gunnerson, co-director and treasurer of the Hinesburg Food Shelf. “For instance, in July we had 71 families. August went to 80. September went to 90.”

Gunnerson said the food shelf sees two to four new families each week and, with Hinesburg’s Saputo Cheese factory shutting down and leaving dozens of workers unemployed after last month’s fire, more calls are coming in. The food shelf serves residents in Hinesburg, Charlotte, Huntington, Starksboro, St. George and Williston.

“With fuel prices going up, people have to make tough choices,” Gunnerson said. “You have to pay the fuel bill, utilities, and there’s not much left to put food on the table.”

The Observer’s Plant a Row program collected 1,227 pounds of produce in 2008, good for roughly 998 meals. The total fell short of the Observer’s goal of 2,750 pounds, but not for lack of caring.

“I’m not a gardener, but I think this is such a great community project, and I’m happy to be needed to do the driving,” said Jan Randy, who delivered food at the end of July and through most of August.

A large portion of the food came from the Master Gardeners plot in the Williston Community garden. The Master Gardeners, a volunteer group that promotes successful and environmentally friendly gardening, have contributed to the Observer’s Plant a Row program since its inception.

This year, the Master Gardeners dropped off weekly harvests of string beans, tomatoes, potatoes and other veggies. With the garden recently tilled, the group is already looking ahead to the next growing season.

“We’re already making plans for next year, what we’re going to grow,” said June Jones, a Master Gardener.

Jones said the group has already picked up seeds for blight resistant tomatoes in next year’s garden.

The need for food, almost certainly, will remain next summer. In addition to the Hinesburg Food Shelf, the new Williston Food Shelf moved into Maple Tree Place earlier this month, and will also benefit from Plant a Row.

In past years the Observer has held a small get together to thank volunteers and donors. This year, however, the Observer will send thank you notes to those who participated and donate $100 to the Williston Food Shelf.

The Hinesburg Food Shelf is located in the Hinesburg United Church and open from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday mornings. Food recipients are asked to come once a month. The Williston Food Shelf opens Nov. 1 in Maple Tree Place above Belle’s Café. It is scheduled to be open on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.