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Let’s fill the food bank shelves again this year

If gardening in the Inland Northwest has taught me anything it is that gardeners here are generous beyond belief. Case in point: Spokane and Inland Northwest gardeners donated 287,067 pounds of fresh, locally grown food right back to the region’s low-income folks through the Plant a Row for the Hungry program. This earns us the top place in donations to the Plant a Row program throughout the U.S. and Canada in 2011. Plant a Row is sponsored by the Garden Writers Association.

Plant a Row has been a part of Spokane’s garden scene for more than 10 years. In 2009, Second Harvest Inland Northwest and the Farmers Insurance Group stepped up to give the program more energy and take it to the Tri-Cities and North Idaho. Rotary First Harvest and the Spokane Rotary West Club helped bring AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Keith Burgeson to Second Harvest to coordinate gleaning programs and expand the promotion of the Plant a Row.

Down in the Tri-Cities, Fields of Grace volunteers gleaned fruit and vegetables from fields and orchards in the lower Columbia Valley and donated 90,000 pounds to Second Harvest there. Around Spokane, farms such as A.C. Starr in Spokane Valley and Siemers on Green Bluff allowed gleaners to come in and pick produce. Rotary Home Harvest helped organize a massive gleaning project with the Green Bluff Growers that harvested 30,000 pounds of apples at the end of the season.

Burgeson teamed with Miranda Hamilton, a nutrition adviser with University of Idaho Extension, to take the Plant a Row program into North Idaho where backyard gardeners donated more than 30,000 pounds to their local food banks. Backyard gardeners in Spokane raised and donated an additional 65,000 pounds to food banks around the county.

Now it’s time to plan and plant new gardens for 2012 and get the donations going again. It’s easy to get involved. Just plant extra rows in your garden and then donate the bounty to a local food pantry when it gets ripe.

Don’t have space or enough sun for a garden? Join a local community garden and plant a box.

Need seeds? Keith Burgeson at Second Harvest has seeds for more than a dozen varieties of vegetables available for gardeners and farmers willing to donate the produce back to the food banks. Local Girl Scouts will also be handing out seeds at their cookie sales locations.

Don’t know how to grow a garden? WSU Spokane County Master Gardeners will be offering classes through the spring.

What should you grow? All vegetables or fruits are welcome, but sturdy vegetables and fruits that are commonly available in the grocery store are best. Fragile greens and herbs need to be delivered close to the day the neighborhood food bank is serving clients. Every pound counts.

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