Grow2Give

At this time of year, we often think of what we are thankful for, and give to others in need. With many food pantries and soup kitchens relying on donations or cheaply purchased leftover or unwanted food, fresh fruits and vegetables are a rare sight among staples like canned beans, rice and day-old bread. With a short shelf life, it’s not surprising: produce may be harvested at a farm days or weeks in advance of arriving at a distributor before it is transported again to neighborhood grocery stores. If it sits on the shelf too long, it’s more likely to spoil and be unsafe to eat, which often happens before the produce can make it to a pantry. Many gardeners choose to grow their own food for different reasons: to eat more seasonally, to show their children where food comes from, or to have the fresh, healthy food for dinner. However, some gardeners grow food for others who cannot, or for people who otherwise would not have access to fresh produce. Since the beginning, Peterson Garden Project has worked with volunteers who grow food for neighborhood pantries and soup kitchens in each of their pop-up community gardens. These volunteer gardeners not only have their own plot at the garden to tend, but also prepare, plant, water, weed and harvest produce in the Grow2Give plots between April and November every year. This huge undertaking requires coordinating watering schedules, frequent garden visits, and sometimes harvesting in the rain or cold to get the produce to the pantry during a narrow drop-off time. In 2015, our Grow2Give volunteer gardeners grew over one ton (2,000+ pounds) of fruits and vegetables just for our neighborhood pantries and soup kitchens: Howard Area Community Center in Rogers Park, Inspiration Café in Uptown, Lincoln...

Grow2Give: Who is doing the giving? by Xan Nelson Jun11

Grow2Give: Who is doing the giving? by Xan Nelson...

We call it Grow2Give™, and the “growing” part of the name is pretty clear. We grow—tomatoes, kale, eggplants, cucumbers, beans and more—and then we give the harvest to local food pantries and nutrition programs. Defining the “giving” is trickier because the program gives us so much as well. I’ve seen it in the faces of the dozens of volunteers who show up in droves every time we have a Grow2Give (G2G) workday. Volunteers aren’t just putting plants into the ground; they work hard.  More than 60 volunteers at four gardens have collectively laid out and filled fifty 4×6-foot plots. At Global, they also hauled and leveled 2,500 square yards of mulch. The volunteers have planted 84 heirloom tomatoes,  240 corn stalks, several hundred beans and carrots, a couple dozen pumpkin and squash, plus cucumbers, melons, native pollinating plants, and more. And they feel like they are the ones who have been given the gift. Volunteers sign up to help with G2G for so many reasons. One watched a homeless man pick up the mulberries off the sidewalk to eat and was compelled to find a way to volunteer with a food security program.  A young man has volunteered as a way to fulfill service hours for a traffic violation; he figured working with G2G was a more meaningful thing to do with his time than watching a video for traffic school. So many of these volunteers have told me stories about their dismay with our toxic food culture. Several were inspired by Mayor Emanuel’s vow to eliminate food deserts in Chicago. Even if you’re not part of the G2G volunteer corps, you can “grow to give,” as well. If you’re one of our Peterson Garden Project gardeners, share the bounty with G2G by sending...

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