Plant a row for a hungry someone

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It was just about a year ago that I aborted my dream writing retreat in Arizona and rushed home to the uncertainties and unrealities of a COVID world. One of the first things I did when I got home was start a big garden. We are still eating the bounty from that garden as my root crop experiments in the hoop house overwintered beautifully. But now I am confronted with the question of what to plant in 2021 when I plan to be as far away from my garden as my vaccine will take me.

Reality is that I won’t be without a garden, especially when the first warm days of spring demand that I work the soil and plant something. But my plan is to be away from home a lot, so I need to plant a garden that is resilient and self-sufficient. Sounds a lot like the key words for 2020: “resilient” and “self-sufficient.” I thought I was done with all that.

The strategy for this year’s garden will be to plant with a hungry someone in mind. I want to plant food that potential garden tenders would like to eat and make it worth their while to venture out to my remote garden location. Particularly during the spring season when nights are still below freezing, and my automatic watering system might freeze. I’m going to need somebody to come out and hand-water every few days. How about early peas and carrots? Or early tomatoes? If I have something especially tasty I might entice an experienced gardener that would even pull a few weeds or take pity on my roses.

I think I’ll go with old reliable varieties and planting strategies. No wild experiments this year. Best to plant veggies that are recognizable and won’t get ignored or pulled as weeds. I am also going to plant a row for the hungry. This could include an extra row of carrots for hungry rabbits and voles, but most importantly, for hungry people. Perhaps an extra mound or two of winter squash, since I have loads of saved seeds, I could grow something that would make a delicious soup, pie, or easy-to-store food gift.

There’s no need to go to big expense to plant an extra row. I usually use my own saved seeds or a seed packet that didn’t make it into the fall garden and will expire soon. There are free seeds available from many local sources, including public libraries and seed-share organizations such as Montezuma Seed Share. (They are currently seeking seeds for their share program if you find a stash of seeds during your spring garden cleaning).

Remember the goal of this enterprise is to grow food, not just an extra row of produce. Consider growing food that is easy to eat raw, such as carrots, or easily converts into a tasty meal, such as squash or potatoes. Even better, take the time and effort to convert your extra row into a part of a meal for someone hungry. Tune into your own need network through your church, book club, or neighborhood, i.e. Did you hear Thelma’s niece had a baby? You can sign up for the dinner tree even if you don’t know that family personally. You may get to know them better through your famous zucchini bread.

It is also possible to “go pro” with your food-sharing by donating your extra produce to local food banks and soup kitchens. But before you dump your bounty on them, be sure to read and understand their donation requests carefully. You don’t need to contribute to food waste.

Even if you don’t grow it – you can help harvest it. There are local gleaning groups and clubs that organize volunteers to pick fruit and glean gardens during the crunch harvest season. Another way to “plant an extra row” is to volunteer some extra time at the food bank or soup kitchen to help organize, pack, and handle the produce that is coming in from ambitious growers. It won’t get to the hungry some ones without this important work.

Even if you don’t grow a garden, plan on giving away food this year. Next time you are staring at your pandemic pantry and can’t face another can of tuna that you dutifully toted home from Costco, load the rest of the case back in your car and donate it to the food bank before it expires. Then take yourself out to lunch at a local restaurant, knowing that you planted a seed for local food security.

Carolyn Dunmire gardens, cooks, and writes in Cahone, Colo.

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From Carolyn Dunmire.