Spring is time to plant a row for the hungry (5/21/09)

May 21, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With warmer days and bountiful sunshine in the forecast, now is the time many local residents will begin planting their garden in anticipation of a strong growing season. As they do so, the Williston Observer’s Plant a Row for the Hungry program is asking gardeners to think about planting extra vegetables for area food shelves.


    Observer photo by Greg Duggan
Judy Geissler pins burlap sacks in the ground to prevent weeds from growing around the beanpoles at the Williston Community Garden on Tuesday evening. Geissler is a member of the Master Gardener program, which donates produce from the garden to the Williston Plant a Row efforts.


    Observer photo by Greg Duggan
Gardening tools lay at the edge of the Williston Community Garden on Tuesday evening.

This year, the campaign is adding a second delivery day each week to bring fruits and vegetables to local food shelves. Deliveries will take place Wednesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m. The Observer will accept donations of produce Monday through Thursday.

In the past, Plant a Row has donated thousands of pounds of fresh produce to the Hinesburg Food Shelf and the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf in Burlington. This year, the program will turn its focus to the Williston Community Food Shelf, which opened its doors at the tail end of last year’s growing season.

Marianne Apfelbaum, publisher of the Observer, is urging all local growers to plant an extra row this season to help out the area food shelves.

“We are very excited to be able to provide fresh produce this year to needy families right in our own community, as well as to continue to support the Hinesburg and Burlington food shelves as food donations permit,” Apfelbaum said.

Williston’s Plant a Row program began three years ago, modeling itself after the nationwide Plant a Row for the Hungry program created by the Garden Writers Association.

The new delivery schedule reflects the three days a week when the Williston Community Food Shelf is open. The Plant a Row program expects to make two deliveries per week to make sure the Food Shelf receives the freshest produce.

“We don’t want it to sit on our shelves and spoil,” said Cathy Michaels, a board member with the Williston Community Food Shelf.

Michaels said this would be the first time the Food Shelf will be able to offer fresh vegetables. Last year, when the organization opened in Maple Tree Place in November, it briefly offered late season apples.

“We haven’t ever been open this time of year,” Michaels said. “It’ll be a nice surprise for them.”

A regional need

The Williston Community Food Shelf will receive the bulk of Plant a Row donations, Apfelbaum said. The Hinesburg Food Shelf and the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf will receive the excess donations, she added.

Hinesburg Food Shelf coordinator Doug Gunnerson hopes his organization will still receive a good amount of produce.

“It’ll affect us for sure,” Gunnerson said. “It’ll be quite a bit from them that we’re not going to get anymore.”

Gunnerson said there were a few local Hinesburg gardeners who donated items last year and he hopes there might be more this season. He said fresh produce is always a popular item at the Hinesburg Food Shelf, which is open once a week on Friday mornings.

Last year, more than 1,200 pounds were donated to the food shelves in Hinesburg and Burlington. That total was down about 1,000 pounds from 2007, yet still drew the same number of participants. Local growers have said the 2008 growing season was a difficult one due to excessive rainfall. This year the Observer has set a goal of collecting 1,500 pounds of produce.

June Jones, a member of the Master Gardeners, said the heavy rains last May and June spoiled many early season vegetables. High humidity also caused fungus problems on tomato plants. This year, the gardeners planned to leave more space between plants to allow for better air filtration and less chance for spoilage.

“People were packing them all too tightly into the plots, which isn’t necessarily something you want to do,” Jones said.

The Master Gardeners are a volunteer group that promotes successful and environmentally friendly gardening. The group maintains a plot at the Williston Community Garden, and has contributed to the Observer’s Plant a Row program since its inception.

The Master Gardeners began their planting season on Tuesday evening at the Williston Community Garden at Brennan Woods, the day after what Jones hoped would be the spring’s final frost.

For more information on the Plant a Row program, contact Kelly Walters at the Williston Observer at 872-9000, x19.