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Pilot Online- Their goal: Fresh veggies for all - Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore

Pilot Online- Their goal: Fresh veggies for all

Got zucchini to spare?

At a time of year when backyard gardeners are drowning in more fresh-picked goodness than they can eat, the Chesapeake Master Gardeners association has a suggestion: Donate it to those less fortunate.

It’s all part of the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, a nationwide charitable effort started by the Garden Writers Association in 1995.

Chesapeake’s involvement with Plant a Row goes back pretty far, said extension agent Mike Andruczyk. Chesapeake’s master gardeners had already had several years of commitment to the program when he joined the city’s staff in 2005.

This year, the Chesapeake Master Gardeners’ goal is to collect 10,000 pounds of fresh food for disadvantaged families. Much of this will be distributed almost immediately through food pantries operated by Harvest Assembly of God and other community and faith-based organizations right in Chesapeake.

This kind of community project is what makes local hunger relief possible, said Ruth Jones Nichols, CEO of the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

“Last year, a little over 130,000 pounds came through the Plant a Row program,” Jones Nichols said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Besides gardening community groups, she said, Food Bank receives fresh food donations from seven commercial farmers on the Eastern Shore. Local educational institutions, including Old Dominion University and Norfolk Collegiate School, have also grown and donated produce through Plant a Row in recent years, she said.

Jones Nichols said these projects are increasingly important in light of the recent closure of several local Farm Fresh stores. A new food desert – an area where housing and food centers are separated by a mile or more – developed after the grocery’s closure in Ocean View, and a similar situation food gap arose near Suffolk’s downtown area.

That’s in addition to longtime limitations in rural areas, Jones Nichols said.

“Western Tidewater is an area where we would like to place greater focus,” she said, as the territory that stretches from Suffolk through Sussex County suffers “pretty significant food insecurity rates.”

She said that though the organization already works in some capacity with most of the food pantries in the area, the needs are still greater. Jones Nichols would welcome the chance to partner directly with growers in the Food Bank’s westernmost reaches.

“We are scratching the surface in terms of our partnerships with farmers,” she said. “We know there are a number of farmers that might be interested (in donating) if they knew of the need.”

Though Food Bank can distribute almost any fresh food quickly, she said, they often suggest donations of “the hard seven,” produce that naturally has a long stable shelf life: apples, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, onions and melons.

“However, if individuals bring in collard greens, tomatoes, squash, beets …” – she reeled off a long list of garden favorites – “we can distribute it quickly. Really the sky is the limit. Our focus is to increase access to healthy nutritious foods, and that includes fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Categories : Press Room