Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Plant a Row for the Hungry

Today, a rare foray into political topics. This won't happen often, I promise.

Yesterday I watched the historic inauguration of the first black US president. For reasons that remain mysterious even to me, I'm a bit of a sucker for pomp and circumstance, so I tend to enjoy these sorts of things. I wondered how much sleep Obama had gotten the night before. I sure hope our new president was wearing some really good long underwear. It was cold in Washington.

I was mostly, but not entirely, pleased with what Obama had to say in his inaugural address. I'm not sure that I can agree that the choice between safety and "our ideals," by which I assume he meant freedom, is false. I think our founding fathers - and mothers - knew full well that we must sometimes choose between our safety and our freedom, as clearly indicated by Benjamin Franklin's famous quote: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." After all, rebelling against the most powerful nation in the world to declare our independence could hardly have been considered the safe move. Living in a free society means that we must accept that we are not always perfectly safe. Our country was founded on a firm choice for liberty over safety, and that's a part of our heritage we should be enormously proud of. So let's not glibly deny the dichotomy.

Likewise, I can't agree that we should not apologize for our "way of life." The American way of life is excessive and hideously impoverished at the same time. The very problems Obama identified as our immediate priorities - economic, environmental, and social - have been caused by a way of life characterized by overconsumption, a reliance on unsecured debt, and a dearth of strong communities. There is much that is good in our way of life, and we should take pride in those things. But let us not confuse patriotism with a blind endorsement of all that we do and all that we are. True patriotism lies in upholding and honoring what is good for our country, as well as in changing what is not good for us or our posterity.

Enough of abstract politics.

Obama's speech brought to my mind John F. Kennedy's inaugural address which contained the immortal line: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." I'm not sure exactly what got me from Obama to Kennedy. But I believe we will need a collective effort, a willingness for everyone to put their shoulders to the wheel and do what we can to help one another and help ourselves. So I started thinking about a simple, voluntary, and very grass-roots idea that has already seen great success. It's the Plant a Row for the Hungry project.

In a nutshell, Plant a Row calls on gardeners to dedicate one row of their garden to growing food to feed the hungry. This is such a brilliant idea for so many reasons. There are 70 million gardeners in the US. One in ten Americans either goes hungry or is at risk of hunger in any given week. Most of them are children. Food banks and soup kitchens are facing alarming shortages right now, and even in good times fresh produce is almost non-existent at these places. I know; I occasionally volunteer to load the grocery bags at a local food bank. No one needs to organize or coordinate the Plant a Row project. There are no meetings to attend or forms to fill out. It's just a self-directed gardener, doing a little extra work as a personal form of tithing directly to the poor. It can't solve all the world's problems, but it is something within easy reach of millions of us. And it is an absolute good.

If you have a garden, please consider breaking ground on a new row this year to grow food for hungry people in your area. There's still time to plan this into your garden for this year. Call your local food bank and see if they can accept fresh produce. Some cannot because they have no means of storing it. Ask enough questions. They may not be able to take lettuce, but perhaps they could briefly store potatoes, apples, or onions. If they cannot accept your produce, don't be discouraged. Ask if they know of another food bank, or a soup kitchen, or any food charity that could use what you plan to grow. They'll probably even be able to give you some phone numbers.

It took me only one call to reach someone at our local soup kitchen who was thrilled with the prospect of getting fresh produce come summertime. He said they almost never have anything in the way of fresh produce. I've talked two of my relatives into Planting a Row this year. Won't you consider joining us?


Anonymous said...

Whoo hoo, good post!

I did not come away with the same take you did on the false choice segment, but in general I am right there with you.

And oddly enough, I have been preparing a post about about Planting a Row for the Hungry. You can download info about the program here:

I just recruited my walking partner who said she will try and get her kids involved in caring for that row. She even mentioned something about organizing a community children's garden with all the produce grown for the local food pantry.

I'm ready to grow!

Anonymous said...

What a great idea. I am going to find out today if I can find somewhere here that will take produce and will add a bed just for this.

Anonymous said...

WOW! Well said! I couldn't agree more. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

My take on the safety vs. ideals statement, which I truly believe he meant, is that (one hopes) a person's constitutional rights (i.e. ideals) cannot be overridden in order to conduct a "war on terror" (i.e. the "safety"). That is, enough of the trampling of the ideals enshrined in the constitution in the name of "protecting" the country. I cried when he said this statement, actually and could hear the slap on Bush's face through my radio.

Cowgirl in the City said...

What an excellent idea! This is the first year I'm starting a garden, I've always just helped my mom or grandmother in theirs. So this is my first year playing solo in a garden. I'm excited and scared to death that everything will die!

But this is an excellent idea, a way to give back to others, and to focus on charity, on being grateful for what we have. Good post!

Elsie said...

I agree with you on the speech, and I think what you are doing in response, and encouraging others to do, is the crux of the speech. We are all in this together, and if those of us who can help will, we will all benefit in building community and responsibility and self reliance.

Kate said...

Ali & Anon, perhaps my interpretation of Obama's comments on this were off. If he's coming down on the side of freedom over safety, then fantastic. But if he's trying to soft-pedal the reality that we *do* have to choose, then I think that's a bad idea. We're adults, and we should make such decisions clearly, and consciously, and with a pride in our legacy of such choices.

Ali, we've been thinking along similar lines quite a bit lately, I look forward to your PAR post.

Emily & Cowgirl, I hope your dedicated rows and gardens in general do well in 2009.

Neisha & Elsie, thanks for stopping by and leaving a note.


Shirley said...

My Grandfather always planted his garden in multiples of 4. One portion for God, one portion for his neighbors, one portion for family and friends and the last portion for Grandmother and himself. He felt by gardening this way he would be blessed. Not only was he blessed but the family was blessed with fresh produce and honey from his hives. I have a small raised bed garden and I am carrying on Grandpa's tradition of planting in mulitiples of 4.

Unknown said...

While I am committed to feeding the hungry and helping those less fortunate than myself, we should deal with problems rationally.
The false impression that there are millions of hungry Americans is simply false. Unfortunately the US government defines a person as being among the 30 or so million hungry Americans as one who " has missed at least 1 meal in the last 30 days".
Americans are not going to bed hungry, just open your eyes. We are going to bed fat from eating too much of the wrong foods and out of shape from a lack of healthy exercise. If you want to help your fellow Americans, let him work in your garden and share in your bounty. You'll have the chance to improve their diet, their fitness and maybe even make a few new friends.

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea, and might also be a great use for any leftover surplus from community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes -- I might be tired of corn and kale by September, but others might not.

At our local St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, they have a shelf of "take one free" bread products from a local grocer. They might also be able to offer fresh produce if a food bank couldn't use it.

Kate said...

Shirley, your grandfather sounds like a wonderful character. It is true that what goes around comes around. I'm sure he was greatly blessed.

CLM, that's a good point about the CSA's. I've never heard of thrift stores giving away food though. I guess I would do that if I had no better place to bestow extra produce, but *I* sometimes shop at thrift shops, and I don't consider myself in need of charity. I think I'd rather see it go to a soup kitchen where it would dramatically improve the food quality, at least for one day.

Kim, I've never tried or even heard of FoodSupport. I tried the link you listed, but it seems to load a fairly blank page.