(03/03/23) BATON ROUGE, La. — Many people in Louisiana do not have reliable access to nutritious food. While food pantries and food banks work hard to provide their clients with healthful options, fresh fruits and vegetables are often unavailable.
That’s why the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team developed the Grow a Row to Share program.
“It all started after I received several calls from gardeners asking how and where they could donate produce,” said Cecilia Stevens, local food systems coordinator for the LSU AgCenter in northeast Louisiana. “When I realized there was no system in place to connect gardeners and food pantries, I saw an opportunity to help.”
Grow a Row to Share launched as a pilot program in northeast Louisiana in March 2022. The program connects home gardeners and local farmers with charitable food organizations like food pantries.
Home gardeners, local farmers and charitable food sites register through the LSU AgCenter and go through a brief online training on food safety and food handling procedures. After completing the online training, donors are matched with a charitable food site in their area.
“I enjoyed participating. It was easy,” said Tensas Parish gardener Ann Burns during an interview after the pilot program. “I just shared what I had that was extra, and I felt like I was helping and doing something really good.”
Burns donated produce to the Tensas Parish Council on Aging and the St. Francis Catholic Food Pantry in Waterproof.
There are no restrictions on how much or how little participants must donate. The goal of the program is to provide a simple system for safely donating fresh fruits and vegetables to neighbors who are experiencing hunger and food insecurity.
Grow a Row to Share has already made an immediate impact on fresh produce distribution at sites like the Robinson-Williams Community Center in Bastrop.
“First, the program demonstrates to the community that we are concerned about their eating habits. We emphasize that raising your own vegetables and sharing them can be fun and rewarding,” said Randy Williams, director of the Robinson-Williams Community Center. “Second, by sharing the overflow of vegetables raised, we are ensuring that extra produce doesn’t go to waste and families in need receive them fresh picked right out of the garden.”
The Grow a Row to Share pilot was administered by the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team as part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s High Obesity Program.
Grow a Row to Share is now open to anyone in Louisiana. Interested parties can register at https://bit.ly/growarowlsu.
For more information about Grow a Row to Share, visit https://bit.ly/LSUAgGrowARow or contact Stevens at email@example.com.
La Bonne Vie Farm in St. Joseph was one of the first donors to register for Grow a Row to Share back in spring 2022. Photo by Cecilia Stevens/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter nutrition agent Jocinda Jones and 4-H agent Denise Guyewski harvest lettuce from the community garden at Grow a Row to Share partner site Robinson-Williams Community Center in Bastrop. The community center both grows and distributes fresh produce on site. Photo by Cecilia Stevens/LSU AgCenter