Lettuce Links: Food Banks Using Old Seeds
Lettuce Links: Food Banks Using Old Seeds
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
Your old garden seeds and excess backyard fruit harvests can help curb hunger in your community. A new wave of organizations are incorporating gardening resources into local food bank programs. Teaching low-income people to garden helps foster independence and better family nutrition and community health. Recycling old seeds and sharing vegetable starts and excess backyard fruits, etc. are easy ways for a community to invest in low-income harvest programs. Community P-Patches offer low-income folks a way to garden and make seeds come to fruition, since they are the population most likely not to have space to grow things to eat in. In this article, I interview the Program Director of the Lettuce Links Program in Seattle, Wa. and also explore similar programs as models to get live food to poor people in your community now.
Lettuce Links (http://www.fremontpublic.org/client/food.html#LettuceLink)
is a seed sharing program in Seattle, Wa. Their organization “promotes environmental stewardship and organic growing methods while addressing hunger among thousands of low-income families throughout Seattle.” They educate low-income families about P-Patches (http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch/) in the Seattle area, and provide gardening tips, as well. (P-Patch programs offer community garden spaces at reduced rates to low-income families.) They also collect old seeds from gardeners in the area, and distribute them *at local food banks* every spring. These seed-sharing programs offer healthy alternatives to past date canned foods at food banks and could be implemented in any town in America that can find growing space for the poor. I recently interviewed Michelle Bates-Benetua, Program Manager, about the Lettuce Links program.
Kirsten: How long has Lettuce Links been in operation?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: The Lettuce Links program began in 1988.
Kirsten: Why was Lettuce Links created?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: There was not enough fresh produce available to low-income communities in Seattle.
Kirsten: What has been the most personally rewarding aspect of working
with this program?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: I get to work for something that I believe in; getting
nutritious food to people who need it most, helping get the gardening
community involved in fighting hunger and working directly with children
in the garden.
Kirsten: What led you personally to get involved with Lettuce
Ms. Bates-Benetua: I volunteered with Lettuce Link when my son was a toddler. We
delivered produce from our P-Patch to the food bank. It was a way I could spend time with him and do something that I felt was important.
Kirsten: How can people donate seeds, or help in other ways?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: If people have extra seeds (in the Seattle area), they can contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly and we'll get them out to people who can't afford them or to gardeners who will then donate the produce to food banks or meal programs. We are a volunteer driven organization and can use volunteer help in all aspects of our program.
Kirsten: How can people who need food get your seeds? Where will you be
distributing seeds throughout the spring and summer?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: We distribute seeds at Seattle Food banks in March and then again in May. You can call to find out our distribution schedule (206-694-6754).
Kirsten: Do you think it would be a good idea to perhaps designate a portion of all P-Patches in King County for low-income families who could use the space to supplement their food supply?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: I think it would be a great idea if a certain portion of the community gardening space was set aside for limited-income families to grow their own food. There is a lot that you can grow in a small space!
Kirsten: What is your vision for this program in the future?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: There are so many possibilities! I see vegetable gardens at shelters, in low-income housing facilities, & in schools. People are better able to meet their other living expenses and are getting to know their community because they are gardening together. People of all income levels value growing food without pesticides or chemical fertilizers...
Kirsten: What other resources do you offer besides seeds? Gardening info, etc.?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: We do offer a gardening information booklet and hope to translate it into several different languages. We assist P-Patch gardeners to grow and give fresh produce to food banks and meal programs, we coordinate the Community Fruit Tree Harvest project (http://www.fremontpublic.org/client/fruittrees.html)
to get fresh fruit to meal programs and food banks, and through our Giving
Garden at Marra Farm (http://www.fremontpublic.org/client/moremarra.html) teach people hands on about sustainable agriculture.
Kirsten: Do you have any resources you can recommend that you enjoy or use?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: I love Seattle Tilth's (http://www.seattletilth.org/) Maritime NW Gardening Guide.
Kirsten: Is your program modeled after any other similar programs elsewhere? Or
is this a pilot model? Are you aware of similar programs elsewhere?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: --There are different aspects of our program that parallel other
programs around the country, such as the Grow A Row (http://www.growarow.org/) program, out of Canada. The Community Fruit Tree Harvest project was modeled after the Victoria Fruit Tree Project (http://www.cityfarmer.org/fruittree.html), one of many fruit tree projects in Canada.
Kirsten: Is there anything else you would like to add to this article?
Ms. Bates-Benetua: Organic gardening can be easy. It does take some time, but the pay off is huge! Children are more likely to eat vegetables that they have grown. Even if you only have a small window container, you can grow herbs like basil or dill that will flavor
your food and make for a more satisfying meal...
Many cities are working on creative ways to use gardening to help curb local hunger issues. In Los Angeles, The Tree People (http://www.treepeople.com) network with the local food banks and community organizations, so no fruit from trees they plant go wasted. According to the Tree People's website, they have distributed 50,000 trees that locally produce tons of fruit each year for some of Los Angeles' most barren neighborhoods. And in the 1980's, TreePeople flew 6,000 fruit trees to 6 African nations, teaching them about tree care and helping fight rampant famine. Due to their superior work, the survival rate for those trees in Africa was an almost unprecedented 80 to 90%. Studies show that government-planted trees on Los Angeles streets have a 30% survival rate. Trees planted with the assistance of TreePeople have a 93% survival rate, due to the education of the community about how to take care of their trees and the community involvement with the trees. Additionally, community-based trees do not routinely suffer from neglect or vandalism as they are community investments.
Canada has a lot of community harvest programs going on.
The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/fruit/about.html), “is a community-based, registered charity that works to increase access to fresh local fruit in communities throughout Vancouver. We connect people who have fruit trees, people who can help harvest fruit, and community groups that use fruit in their programs.” The Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project (http://www.richmondfruittree.com/) “connects volunteers with growing and harvesting fruit and vegetables – for our neighbours in need. Our three major activities are growing food at the Sharing Farm, picking fruit, and gleaning second harvests from farmers’ fields.”
The Urban Agriculture Network (http://www.cityfarmer.org/TUAN.html, created in 1992, says it was founded to “focus attention on food production, economic development and environmental enhancement in towns, cities and urban regions areas previously neglected by both the urban and agricultural development agencies.” In an article on a website about City Farms, entitled “Edible Cities,” at http://journeytoforever.org/cityfarm.html, the unidentified author writes, “It's happening. Growing your own food in cities has long been the way in Asia, and it's expanding enormously in Africa, Latin America, and all over the world.” The website says, “More than half of the poor people in developing countries now live in urban areas, up from about a third in 1988, only 12 years ago, and still increasing.” The author continues, “It's a true grassroots initiative of "helpless" people helping themselves. Yet they do need help, as much help as they can get, help in learning the best and safest ways of recycling wastes and the best growing methods, and help in persuading governments and local authorities to support their efforts rather than neglecting them, or even harassing them for occupying public land or land legally zoned for urban use, not agriculture.”
It is time we got more aggressive, and more creative, in the programs we create and sustain regarding poverty and hunger in our communities. We need to pool resources, such as providing healthy bodies to pick harvests from backyard trees belonging to home owners who have more food than they can use, to give to disabled folks living in poverty. Such as older gardeners donating leftover seed to 30 year old mothers who grow food for their kids. We can feed everyone. The issue with hunger is not lack of food, it is ACCESS to food and the land to grow that food on. Edible cities will help curb hunger.