Posted January 22, 2003
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
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
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
seventy 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.