Share the bounty: Plant a Row for the Hungry gets underway

ShaneSkiff-fresh food
Observer courtesy photo                                    Williston Central School sixth grade student Shane Skiff set up a fresh produce stand for donations at the Williston Community Food Shelf. Residents who would like to donate produce can place it in the bins outside the food shelf.

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

As Williston gardeners till their soil and plant vegetables, herbs and flowers, they might consider planting an extra row for neighbors struggling to put food on the table.

At the Williston Community Gardens, located in Brennan Park, the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, organized by University of Vermont Extension master gardeners and Williston in Bloom members, is gearing up for the season. Fruit and vegetables from the Plant a Row patch will be donated to the Williston Community Food Shelf, providing fresh local produce to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it.

Last Friday, gardeners planted tomato and pepper plants. On Tuesday, they were back in the plot, planting seeds. Over the next few weeks, the volunteers will plant cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, pole beans, radishes and lettuce in the gardens.

Residents who would like to get involved can help harvest vegetables as they grow during the summer. Master gardeners typically meet at the community garden between 5 and 7 p.m. on Tuesday evenings.

“They can just bring gloves and whatever they need and introduce themselves,” said gardener June Jones. “We’d be glad to put them to work.”

Residents can also plant extra food—or share what they already grow—in their own gardens. Produce can be dropped off at the food shelf, located on the basement floor of 300 Cornerstone Drive, in Suite 115.

Since the Williston program began in 2006 as a joint effort between the Williston Observer and the town of Williston, it has provided thousands of pounds of fruit and vegetables. Last year, the community gardens provided 846 pounds of produce for the food shelf.

“We had 100 pounds of watermelon last year,” Jones said. “They were the little ones. People like things like that cause they’re special.”

Food Shelf President Jeanne Jensen said the influx of produce is highly anticipated.

“We look forward every year to summer when we start to receive donations of fresh produce from our local gardeners,” she wrote in an email to the Observer. “During the year we work hard to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for our clients through our ‘Fresh Initiative’ but are limited by our funding. During the summer and fall through the Plant-a-Row initiative our clients not only get to share in the bounty of fresh produce but also a great variety of foods that they wouldn’t be exposed to through donated canned vegetables.”

Providing fresh produce for the food shelf through the Plant a Row program is a community effort.

The town donates the garden plot, rototills it in the spring and fall and puts up a fence to keep out hungry animals. American Meadows, located in Williston, donates seeds. The group uses burlap coffee sacks from Green Mountain Coffee as mulch. At the end of the season, they bring the biodegradable bags to Green Mountain Compost.

Jensen said the need for food donations during the summer is critical, as people become busy and donations lag.

“The Food Shelf got through the winter in good shape but recently we’ve seen a big drop off in food donations and have had to dip into our emergency funds to make up the gap,” she said. “We normally see a drop off in the summer months as people go on vacation or are just out enjoying beautiful Vermont and forget that the need continues for our families, but this year, the drop off came much earlier and we are struggling.”

The food shelf’s biggest needs are currently cereal, pasta sauce, soups and canned vegetables.

“The need to feed the hungry continues in the summer, in fact for many families it increases as their children are not receiving breakfast and lunch at school,” Jensen said. “For these families we provide extra help through our “Summer Bags for Kids” program. Please don’t forget us in June, July and August!”