'Garden To Give': Vermont Companies Want You To Fight Hunger In Your Own Backyard

Apr 13, 2018

Two Vermont companies have joined forces to encourage gardeners across the country to help fill their local food shelves.

Not that long ago, the shelves at the Lamoille Community Food Share were full of canned soup, dried pasta and lots of peanut butter. Those things are still there, but now volunteers are also stocking bins full of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sara Babcock is the program coordinator. She said these days, they welcome donations of fresh produce.

"We’re a food share. That’s what we’re about," Babcock said. "We want to try and help people for short-term objectives, get 'em over a hard spot. We think everyone has the right to have a good, nutritious meal. And fresh vegetables and produce are fabulous. We’re all supposed to eat more of 'em!"

Lamoille Community Food Share Program Coordinator Sara Babcock stands by the Morrisville food shelf's bins of fresh produce.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

And that’s the idea behind a new initiative of two Vermont gardening companies: Gardener’s Supply Company and High Mowing Organic Seeds. It’s called "Garden to Give."

Claudia Marshall, who works for Gardener's Supply, helps organize it.

"What we’re asking folks to do with 'Garden to Give' is to grow and to donate fresh, and in some cases organic, local produce, and to deliver some of it to their local food shelf," she explained.

Marshall said hunger is everywhere, including in her company’s own backyard.

"Twenty-thousand people are food insecure in Chittenden County, right now," she said. "In other words, they’re hungry, and they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. And as gardeners, we have the power to help."

Marshall said they encourage people to grow things that have a longer shelf-life, like carrots and winter squash.

"We’ve got a collection called the "Giving Garden" seed collection, from High Mowing Organic Seeds, and it gives you all the seeds you need to grow an entire garden that will produce the types of durable foods that food shelves are gonna want," Marshall said.

The "Giving Garden" bundle contains seeds for kale, cabbage, beet, butternut squash, chard, carrot and acorn squash.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

"Most people who have home gardens are smothered by the abundance at various times of the year, but may not know an easy way to plug in that excess produce," said Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds, in Wolcott. "So if they’re a part of this program, it’s like the work of thinking about that has been done ahead for them. And so it encourages generosity, but it also makes it convenient for people."

Stearns said Vermont is a national leader when it comes to pairing the agricultural economy with addressing hunger relief. But, he said, the problem is not just with distribution.

"The other challenge is that many of the recipients that come to food shelves may not also be prepared for dealing with something like beets," Stearns said. "They may not have a fully functioning kitchen. They may be unfamiliar with some of the produce. But, of course it is one of the most healthy sources of nutrition that they can have."

Less perishable staples for people and pets still take up much of the shelf space at local food pantries.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Back at Lamoille Community Food Share, Babcock’s advice for gardeners looking to share their harvest is to keep it simple.

"If it’s a little exotic — not as popular. So really just mainstream vegetables is what would be great," she said.

Babcock added that if you’re starting seedlings for your garden, they welcome those too.

"If you end up with, 'Oh, I have six more tomato plants than I need,' we can do something about that," she said. "We have people who are interested in putting them in their own yard or on their own porch. So, seedlings work too."

Gardener’s Supply recommends calling your local food shelf to see what donations it is equipped to take before planting your garden.

Disclosure: Gardener's Supply is a VPR underwriter.