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Newsletter has been
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Never look down on anybody unless you are helping him up.
-- Rev. Jesse Jackson
Plant a Row for the Hungry
by Jeff Lowenfels
It was a cold night in Washington, D.C., and I was heading back to the
hotel when a man approached me. He asked if I would give him some money
so he could get something to eat. I'd read the signs: "Don't give
money to panhandlers." So I shook my head and kept walking.
I wasn't prepared for a reply, but with resignation, he said, "I
really am homeless and I really am hungry! You can come with me and watch
me eat!" But I kept on walking.
The incident bothered me for the rest of the week. I had money in my pocket
and it wouldn't have killed me to hand over a buck or two even if he had
been lying. On a frigid, cold night, no less, I assumed the worst of a
fellow human being.
Flying back to Anchorage, I couldn't help thinking of him. I tried to
rationalize my failure to help by assuming government agencies, churches
and charities were there to feed him. Besides, you're not supposed to
give money to panhandlers.
Somewhere over Seattle, I started to write my weekly garden column for
The Anchorage Daily News. Out of the
blue, I came up with an idea. Bean's Cafe, the soup kitchen in Anchorage,
feeds hundreds of hungry Alaskans every day. Why not try to get all my
readers to plant one row in their gardens dedicated to Bean's? Dedicate
a row and take it down to Bean's. Clean and simple.
We didn't keep records back then, but the idea began to take off. Folks
would fax me or call when they took something in. Those who only grew
flowers donated them. Food for the spirit. And salve for my conscience.
In 1995, the Garden Writers Association
of America held their annual convention in Anchorage and after learning
of Anchorage's program, Plant a Row for Bean's became Plant
a Row For The Hungry. The original idea was to have every member of
the Garden Writers Association of America write or talk about planting
a row for the hungry sometime during the month of April.
As more and more people started working with the Plant a Row concept,
new variations cropped up, if you will pardon the pun. Many companies
gave free seed to customers and displayed the logo, which also appeared
in national gardening publications.
Row markers with the Plant a Row logo were distributed to gardeners to
set apart their 'Row for the Hungry.'
Garden editor Joan Jackson, backed by The San Jose Mercury News and California's
nearly year-round growing season, raised more than 30,000 pounds of fruits
and vegetables her first year, and showed GWAA how the program could really
work. Texas fruit farms donated food to their local food bank after being
inspired by Plant a Row. Today the program continues to thrive and grow.
I am stunned that millions of Americans are threatened by hunger. If every
gardener in America--and we're 70 million strong--plants one row for the
hungry, we can make quite a dent in the number of neighbors who don't
have enough to eat. Maybe then I will stop feeling guilty about abandoning
a hungry man I could have helped.
NOTE: Jeff Lowenfels has
the longest running garden column in the United States.
involved! Make a donation or learn how to start your own Plant
a Row (PAR) camplaign by contacting the Garden
Writers Association. Thank you!