Running, charity and all that laces them together.

Running, charity and all that laces them together.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Row for the Hungry by Heather M.

     My brother and I were two of my father's indentured servants.  My dad grew up on a farm. Even though he had a different day job as an adult, he never gave up the farming life, and of course, we had to help him with his 'hobby' any time he needed help. In return, he fed us. (a minor understatement, but you get the point.) We grew what we ate, and we ate what we grew, and so did everyone else in my small town. I don't think that I realized that people actually bought vegetables in the grocery store until I was in about third grade.  I remember my mother always turning up her nose at the tomatoes wrapped in cellophane that we had to buy during the winter. She was right - they did taste like cardboard. My mother canned or froze whatever my dad brought back from his farm/garden - corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and cauliflower were some of his favorites. - We also managed to grow or buy locally a lot of fruit that she canned or froze - peaches, pears, and apples. Oh, and I'll never forget the summer of 'swampers,' or wild blueberries. Robert Frost wrote a poem named "Blueberries" that I decided my daughter would memorize in seventh grade, 

". . .How we used to pick berries: we took one look round, 
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground, 
And saw nothing more of each other, or heard, . . ."

The words reminded me of the summer my father took me to pick blueberries. These were wild blueberries, very sweet, and found out in the woods, so we really did sink "out of sight like trolls underground" as we entered the woods and hoped we didn't get lost.

     And don't even get me started about the strawberry patch we planted on a former cow pasture. Just think FERTILIZER!

     What is funny about my childhood on the farm is that I really thought that that's what I had to do when I got married - plant a huge garden, pick the stuff and then preserve a lot of it so my family could have the produce in the winter. I couldn't figure out how I was going to do that and be a lawyer too. I was convinced that nothing was better than Dad's corn and mom's applesauce, and that being a good wife and mom would entail giving that same corn and applesauce to my family.
    Well, that may be true, but when I got married and had my daughter and proceeded to finish law school, I learned how to buy food at the grocery store, and luckily, I could afford it. As with most young couples, times were often a little tight, but we did fine. And, my parents always brought along some corn, tomatoes and whatever else my dad had just picked whenever they visited. My mom brought whatever she had canned and frozen, and life was, and still is, good.
     While I learned to "buy things at the store," a lot of America's hungry can't afford to buy vegetables and fruit fresh at the market. It's really a shame, because produce is what makes people healthy, and many people really would change their diets and incorporate fresh produce if they could afford it. I hate when I do this, but the other night, I was watching a show on WETA about food banks distributing fresh produce. (What I hate is that I didn't write down the name of the show or any of the names of the people featured.)  Both families that were featured received produce at their local food banks. One lived right in New York City, and the daughter remarked that it was easy to find cheap junk food as soon as she went out her door, but healthy foods were simply ultra-expensive or unavailable. As her mother began to receive produce from the local food bank, she spent a lot of time preparing healthier meals with her daughter, and she noted that their relationship improved and they both had more energy as they ate better. The families who benefited from this produce were just wonderful examples of how charity multiplies. As the families featured began to get back on their feet, they also began to commit time to their local food banks and soup kitchens. It was amazing to see people who had so little, turn around and give back as soon as they could. It also showed their commitment to helping others eat as healthily as possible.
     Susan Evans and Peter Clarke deserve most of the credit for convincing and helping food banks to distribute fresh produce. (Weise, Elizabeth, "More Food Banks Offer Fresh Fruits, Vegetables," USA Today, 1-31-2011.) In 1991, these California professors met a produce wholesaler who had set up a program four years earlier in LA getting produce distributors to send excess produce to food banks. The couple wondered why this program hadn't been duplicated. They spent years finding ways to get other foodbanks to replicate the program. They ran into a lot of obstacles, but handled them one by one. Large grants from Kraft foods totaling $26 million helped the food banks purchase walk-in cooler and cooler blankets.(Ibid.) They also confronted cultural issues when distributors thought they received rotten bananas which were really ripe plantains and when clients boiled the kiwis they thought were potatoes. (Ibid.) Profs. Evans and Clarke learned so much about promoting new programs from their work with the food banks that they included an extensive description of their work in a recent article they published in The Stanford Social Innovation Review ("Disseminating Orphan Innovations," SSIR, Winter 2011). In the past few decades, food banks have had tremendous success getting excess produce to those in need. Evans and Clarke are continuing to help these food banks 'push the produce' by encouraging the food banks to give out recipes which incorporate the produce currently available. These two professors are wonderful examples of people who see a problem and are willing to tackle it head on. 
     A 2008 study done by the USDA have shown that people below 130% of the poverty line(the threshold for receiving food stamps) are not able to budget for fruits and vegetables. (Stewart, Hayden, and Noel Blisard. Are Lower Income Households Willing and Able To Budget for Fruits and Vegetables? U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, ERR-54, January 2008.) The same study notes ". . ., a household’s income does not need to rise much further before the household is also willing and able to allocate additional resources to fruits and vegetables, on average." (Ibid.) The question remains, how do we help those who have no place in their budget for produce (and who don't grow up with my parents)????
    It seems that we have to do our best to make sure that produce gets to the food banks and ultimately to those in need. Right now, I am not certain if any of RunningBrooke's beneficiaries take part in such programs, but I would love for some of them to follow laces and let us know. I have researched organizations which donate produce to feed the hungry and here's one interesting group I stumbled upon - Plant a Row for the Hungry. - In their words, this is what Plant a Row Does, "PAR provides focus, direction and support to volunteer committees that promote herb, vegetable and community gardening at the local level. Then we provide training and direction to enable the committee to reach out into the community. Finally, we assist in coordinating the local food collection systems and monitor the volume of donations being conveyed to food agencies." - I really encourage you to follow this link and see what you can do to plant a row for those in need next year: Plant a Row Their website has great info on local Plant a Row organizations, including one in Manassas, VA. 
     Just so you know, all of the beautiful pictures in today's post come from Brooke's garden. (I don't have the space or the sunshine.) Maybe we can get Brooke to "plant a row" next spring. I better watch out. I may be creating another job for myself. 

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