Colorado Farm and Food Alliance’s Plant a Row effort was born in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a central piece of our Just Good Food project. This project serves to strengthen regional food security through supporting local gardens and small plot production, enhancing conservation and beneficial practices, and directing product and volunteer support to alleviating food insecurity in the region.
With Plant a Row, farmers and nurseries donated extra vegetable starts, members of the community made generous donations of capital and seeds, and gardeners and farmers planted extra rows to grow a little something extra for community members experiencing food insecurity. We also included an orchard gleaning effort with our Plant a Row effort. Overall, we were able to donate over 8,000 pounds of produce to food banks around SW Colorado, to several Native American nations, and to local school programs.
The best parts about the Plant a Row project were the way it brought people together around sharing food and stories, including those pertaining to the history of Native American foodways. When dropping off a load of pears in the San Luis Valley, a local resident, Maria, approached me with a tear in her eye. She told me that the Navajo had a beautiful pear orchard in northern Arizona that was cut down by colonizers. She said pears were incredibly important to her people and a gracious gift from our Valley to hers.
Stories like this one reminded me that we are all connected and every little act of kindness counts in ways we could never foresee. Fresh vegetables and fruit were delivered to all of the following distribution hubs: Gunnison Food Bank, St Michaels Food Bank, La Puente in the San Luis Valley, Rosebud Reservation, Pine Ridge Reservation, Navajo/Din’e Reservation, Crystal River Food Co-op, and many more. Over 30 volunteers helped to harvest and deliver produce to these locales. Without their dedication and time, none of these efforts would have been possible.
“Thank you for the amazing delivery of 600 lbs of gorgeous pears to our Pantry this week. Volunteers and recipients are delighted with the treat! Our community is grateful for your commitment to the welfare of everyone. We hope you will think of us anytime you have good Colorado food to share!”Gunnison County Food Pantry
At a recent gleaning in the North Fork Valley, volunteers enjoyed the fresh air and camaraderie that comes with group harvests during a time when socializing can be a little stressful and confusing. Many people move to Paonia to put their hands in the dirt, eat good food and connect with their neighbors. We are grateful for the opportunity to keep that culture alive through gleaning parties and supporting harvests from local Plant a Row participants. Volunteer Sarah Peterson writes, “I picked pears this morning with a lovely group! We are donating our harvest to reservations. It felt so good to wander around the orchard and feel the cool fall air.” This is the spirit of the project, to enjoy the simple things in life and to share them with others.
Many of the food banks sent sweet letters of appreciation, reminding us that we are all neighbors and that every little bit of good that we do is worthwhile and can be enormously uplifting to others. Gunnison County Food Pantry writes, “Thank you for the amazing delivery of 600 lbs of gorgeous pears to our Pantry this week. Volunteers and recipients are delighted with the treat! Our community is grateful for your commitment to the welfare of everyone. We hope you will think of us anytime you have good Colorado food to share!”
“Your donation of 450 lbs of apples and pears has been a HUGE hit with our clients. It’s much appreciated to have fresh fruit this time of year! Thank you again!”La Puente Food Bank in Alamosa
Each fall the North Fork Valley, like most orchard regions, has an abundance of fruit that often goes unharvested. There are many in Colorado, in all our towns and communities, that experience food insecurity or can’t afford healthy food options. And some places do not have the climate and water for fruit production of the North Fork. By sharing this abundance, we are reducing waste and filling stomachs.
It is my sincere dream and hope that the Colorado Farm and Food Alliance Plant a Row project can donate over 15,000 lbs of produce next year, doubling what we did this year! If you would like to plant a row for those in need or help with gleaning parties next year, follow Colorado Farm and Food Alliance on Facebook, sign up for our newsletter and we will let folks know how to be involved early in the season. Thank you again to every volunteer, homeowner, orchardist, food bank volunteer, road dog, gardener and farmer who contributed your time and energy to this project. It takes a village.