When you are digging and planting in your vegetable garden, the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank hopes you will think beyond the boundaries of your own table and Grow a Row for the community.
“Whenever I talk about it in the community, people are always shocked to hear that garden produce is something that we do accept,” said Latifah Lee, Food Acquisition Coordinator for the Food Bank.
Modeled after similar programs around the country, the Food Bank’s Grow a Row campaign simply invites local gardeners to plant more fruits and vegetables than their own needs might require and then donate that abundance to the Food Bank once the produce ripens.
With mounting inflation and the lingering economic effects of the pandemic, food banks continue to be under pressure to supply not only large volumes of food to the communities they serve but significant quantities of food that help promote appropriate nutritional balance.
In 2021, the Food Bank distributed more than 6.2 million pounds of food through its distribution activity and that of its community partner outlets in Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania, and Stafford counties, as well as Fredericksburg and Locust Grove. Of that volume, slightly more than 1.2 million pounds was fresh produce, about 19 percent of the total output.
USDA recommendations suggest that 40-50 percent of a person’s diet should be fruits and vegetables, leading the Food Bank to seek additional produce resources that will not require significant additional funding to acquire.
“The Grow a Row concept is a way to invite the gardening community to be a bit more deeply invested in our mission and think about the way they can impact it,” said Dan Maher, President & CEO of the Food Bank. “An individual growing a modest amount of extra produce may not feel he or she is making a huge impact on hunger in our community, where more than 30,000 people are food insecure, but if they understand their commitment to growing extra produce might be matched by hundreds or thousands of gardeners in our region, then the impact becomes substantial.”
Because of the expense of produce, dairy, and meat commodities in a retail environment, those items are often the most requested by those who use the food bank’s services but are often the items least donated to food banks. Produce tends to be the commodity among that trio that can be most easily accessed by ordinary citizens.
“I had a conversation with a master gardener and she advised me that she always runs into having way too much zucchini,” said Lee. “She often leaves a basket on her front porch for people to take the zucchini for free. I want the word to get out to as many neighborhoods and community members as possible so this program can really grow and the Food Bank can receive an abundance of home-grown produce and herbs.”
Those interested in supporting Grow a Row or learning more can contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or (540) 371-7666 ext. 133.