It’s not every day that I talk about vegetable gardening. I don’t hate vegetables – in fact, I love them! Not only are they one of my favorite food groups, they are fun to cut and chop, and look so lovely in the garden. But I don’t grow them. There’s a perfectly good explanation. I have a sister and a number of friends who have fabulous vegetable gardens. They give me veggies, I give them perennials. It’s as simple as that.
So what made me plant a vegetable garden this year? My first ever, I’m ashamed to say. No lightning bolts letting me know I’ve gone astray with all the shrubs and flowers. No fundamental conviction that I should start growing my own vegetables for a change. Just a decision to get behind a good program designed to provide food for those who need it. For you skeptics, here's a photo, but please don't laugh! Remember, this is my first ever!
The Garden Writers Association (GWA) is sponsoring a campaign called ‘Plant a Row for the Hungry’ (PAR for short). Aside from generating over nine million pounds of produce for donation last year, PAR started right here in Alaska! Garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels, (Anchorage Daily News) started the whole thing twelve years ago when he asked his readers to plant a row of vegetables for Bean’s Café, a soup kitchen in Anchorage. Since then, with the sponsorship from GWA, the program has spread across the country and has begun to make a significant contribution to our country’s hunger plight. According to hunger statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, over eleven percent of American families experienced hunger in 2005. There are an estimated ninety million gardeners in the US today! Think of the hungry we could feed if every gardener planted just one row or donated their excess produce each fall to their local food bank? You got it – that’s the whole idea!
PAR follows in the footsteps of the great War Gardens of ninety years ago. This was a very successful campaign launched during World War I, again, from the inspiration of one man, Charles Lathrop Pack, who set up the national War Garden Commission to organize his brain child. The posters showed militant vegetables marching off to war calling “The seeds of Victory ensure the fruits of Peace!” Later, when the war ended, posters boasted victorious vegetables returning home holding high the American flag with the words “War Gardens Victorious, Every War Garden a Peace Plant!” Canning was the most common form of food preservation at the time and there was even a poster encouraging people to “Can Vegetables, Fruit and the Kaiser to”.
The war garden effort, promoted both here and in allied countries, is largely attributed for saving Europe’s food supply during the last two years of the war. By 1916 major portions of farmland throughout Europe had been devastated by war and food reserves had run out. Solders were getting what food rations were left and not much at that. Their families at home were getting even less.
Our country had entered the war late and was not fighting on home soil. As a result, our cities were in tact and we still had healthy, strong citizens who could garden. Why not put these people to work growing food? The War Garden program went beyond home gardening in their effort to feed the troops. Vacant lots, primarily in the US, but also in Britain, France, Belgium and Italy were put into the cultivation of vegetables. The emphasis of this program was in the cities where there were people to man the gardens, mostly ladies groups, Girl Scout troops and hastily formed garden clubs. A survey conducted by the War Garden Commission in 1918 conservatively estimated the number of such gardens in the US at just over five and a quarter million, with some 186,000 vacant lots under cultivation in New York City alone!
PAR is similarly successful because of individual gardeners volunteering their effort to grow food and make sure it is being donated where it needs to be. To join this effort, just designate a portion of your garden as ‘A Row for the Hungry’, it’s that simple. To find out where to donate your produce, call your local food bank, Master Gardener's organization or PAR's toll free number 877-492-2727. There are volunteers all over the country working with this program. Why not make this your year to join?