Family gardens, school gardens, roofs, balconies and windowsills for the hungry (Willem / About: Gardening)

Today, I received the new “About : Gardening” with interesting contributions of Marie IANNOTTI. My attention was immediately drawn to a message entitled “Plant A Row for the Hungry” (PAR).

Indeed, I have been spending the major part of my life combating desertification and alleviating poverty for the benefit of the rural people in the drylands. I always have tried to convince people to start this combat with programs and projects to eradicate malnutrition and hunger. There is a simple reason for that : no one can work with an empty stomach, every malnourished child is weaker for all kinds of diseases (see the fantastic programs of UNICEF).

Teach the hungry people how to grow their own food (vegetables and fruits) and you see the positive social effects within the shortest time.

For many years, we have been constructing community gardens, family gardens and school gardens in the drylands of developing countries. It can also be done, and even more easily, in the developed world. Two-three months later, the local people and children were eating the vegetables they had grown. What’s the kind of key we used to open that door to their “new way of life” ? It’s quite simple : we were teaching them first how to combine their traditional agricultural methods with cost-effective modern technologies (water harvesting, water stockage, keeping the soil moistened for a longer period with less water or water use efficiency, stockage of nutrients in the soil to limit leaching, enhancement of microbiological activity in the soil, choice of drought resistant varieties, even marketing their produce, etc.). It took us only a few days of teaching the local women, children and technicians or teachers. That’s capacity building to obtain almost immediate, but sustainable results.

These results are really remarkable : instead of spending millions or billions on huge programs or projects, it suffices to eradicate hunger by setting up small-scale projects of family gardens and school gardens. Forget about the large-scale projects, submerging the local people and leaving them disappointed when the aid stops. I have seen a good number of failures. We know the lessons learned. Let’s keep it small, so that they can handle it with their own capacities and skills when the project stops !

Healthy people are in a better position to take care of their own standards of living. Hungry people don’t have the force to react upon the deficiencies. So, first teach them how to produce their own food. Don’t leave them dependent on truckloads of food coming from others (international organisations, national aid programs, NGOs, etc.). It has been shown for decades that huge food aid programs are not sustainable. Yes, we have to help when famine shows up. No, we cannot let those people starve. But we should do more than offering them food alone : we should also learn them how to grow crops, even in the most difficult circumstances, e.g. in all the refugee camps of this world. That’s where applied science and technology are coming in, to be combined with successful traditional methods, based upon indigenous knowledge and local experience. It all depends upon the cost-effectiveness of such a combination. And such good combinations undeniably exist !

I have seen many times little stars twinkling in the eyes of people and children when they showed me proudly their first carrots, beetroots, onions, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbages in their little family garden or school garden, only a few square meter big. For me, that’s combating hunger, that’s combating desertification, that’s sustainable development of the poorest, not only in the drylands, but everywhere, even on the smallest open spaces in the cities, even in containers on all the windowsills : see therefore my other weblog

It would be a nice way to make all the cities completely green : from rooftops to basements, from balconies to window ledges, not only with ornamental plants, but in the first place with vegetables and fruit trees. Why would vegetables and fruit trees be less beautiful than exotic ornamentals ? Don’t we see the beauty of our crops anymore, or don’t we want to see it ?

Green cities, green drylands ? Only a dream ? Absolutely not ! But we cannot wait for the hungry themselves to take initiatives (think at the new wave : guerilla gardening). All depends on the goodwill of all of us. Thus, let us start small, for small is so beautiful. And so are family gardens and school gardens, green roofs, green balconies, green windowsills, green walls, green parking lots, etc., etc., etc.

In the meanwhile, I am sincerely wishing PAR (see below) a lot of success !


Read at :

About : Gardening

“Marie Iannotti – Gardening Guide” <>

Don’t forget about the food pantries this harvest season or the Plant A Row for the Hungry program. If you can’t stand the thought of another bean salad or zucchini fritter, there are plenty of people who would welcome your bounty. You’ll find food pantries listed in the yellow pages, under Social or Human Services. Or ask at your church, library or Cooperative Extension. You’ll actually feel good about zucchini again.

Plant a Row for the Hungry

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in ten households in the United States experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for an entire day. Approximately 25 million people, including 9.9 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. In the past year, the demand for hunger assistance has increased by 40%, and research shows that hundreds of hungry children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources. (More hunger statistics.)

The purpose of PAR is to create and sustain a grassroots program whereby garden writers utilize their media position with local newspapers, magazines and radio/TV programs to encourage their readers/listeners to donate their surplus garden produce to local food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations to help feed America’s hungry.

PAR’s success hinges on its people-helping-people approach. The concept is simple. There are over 70 million gardeners in the U.S. alone, many of which plant vegetables and harvest more than they can consume. If every gardener plants one extra row of vegetables and donates their surplus to local food banks and soup kitchens, a significant impact can be made on reducing hunger. Food agencies will have access to fresh produce, funds earmarked for produce can be redirected to other needed items and the hungry of America will have more and better food than is presently available.

PAR’s role is to provide focus, direction and support to volunteer committees who execute the programs at the local level. We help gather the human resources necessary to form a nucleus for a local committee. Then we provide training and direction to enable the committee to reach out into the community. Finally, we assist in coordinating the local food collection systems and monitor the volume of donations being conveyed to the soup kitchens and food banks. PAR is proving that every individual can make a difference in his/her community. (Last year, PAR had over 600 volunteer committees with an average of 45 people involved in each program totaling 27,000 volunteers!)

PAR began in Anchorage, AK, in the garden column of Jeff Lowenfels, former Garden Writers Association president, when he asked gardeners to plant a row of vegetables for Bean’s Cafe, an Anchorage soup kitchen. Since then, PAR has grown exponentially through continued media support, individual and company sponsorship, and volunteerism.

It took the first five years to reach the major milestone of a cumulative total of one million pounds of donated produce. In the next six years, more than a million pounds of food was donated each year. This is a significant contribution considering that each pound of food makes four meals. In 2005, more than 1.5 million pounds of produce were donated generating meals for over 5.5 million needy recipients. All this has been achieved without government subsidy or bureaucratic red tape — just people helping people. PAR’s goal for our 10th anniversary in 2004 was to make more than 8 million pounds of produce available to food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations. Thanks to the efforts of all of our PAR volunteers, that goal was reached. The total produce donations through 2005 reached nearly 10 million pounds of produce to help those in need in communities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In 2002, GWA established a supporting 501(c)(3) charity called the Garden Writers Association Foundation to administer and expand the PAR program.

Make a Donation

GWA Foundation
Plant a Row for the Hungry
10210 Leatherleaf Court
Manassas, VA 20111


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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