Plant a Row to Help the Hungry in Maine

From the Journal Tribune:

Gardeners can plant a row to help the hungry

With warmer weather sticking around and local green thumbs readying to plant their gardens, The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is seeking gardeners to assist in its Maine Harvest for Hunger program.

The program provides fresh foods to soup kitchens and food pantries throughout the state to augment their food supplies and provide fresh, nutritious options to clients of those organizations.

The extension says the most needed produce will be fruit of all types, plus carrots, cucumbers, peppers, winter squash and potatoes. And they’re asking any gardeners – from masters to first-timers – to plant an extra row for the program.

The program is open to all interested gardeners and is coordinated through University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program. Master Gardeners from all over the state act as local coordinators.

In addition to growing some extra produce, for those considering starting their own veggie patch or planting fruit trees or bushes, home-grown foods offer a wealth of nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants, as well as savings at the grocery store.

Despite the many deals that can be found by “extreme couponers” these days, the price of produce is dependent on many factors and coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables are rare. With the price of gasoline on the rise, supermarket prices are sure to follow suit.

Many towns are starting to offer space for residents to garden. Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach and Saco currently have community gardens that offer up plots for a small fee. The soil is prepared by garden organizers, and some already have plots dedicated to programs like Maine Harvest for Hunger in which they ask participants to donate some time throughout the summer to keep the garden growing and productive.

These community gardens are a great resource for beginners or those who live in apartments or cities where there is not much room for a garden. But for those who are short on space or cannot access a community garden, growing one’s own food can still be possible.

In a recent interview with the Journal Tribune, Michelle Martin of Springvale Nurseries suggested starting a container garden or using small, raised beds, which do not need a lot of space. People can successfully grow tomatoes, peas, peppers, beans and more in containers.

York County Cooperative Extension Agency horticulture program aide Sue Tkacik said in addition to organizing the Maine Harvest for Hunger program, the extension offers support for gardeners. A soil test kit can be obtained from the extension office in Springvale, which would be sent to the University of Maine’s lab in Orono for results. Also, she said, the York County Cooperative Extension Agency offers free information about home gardening online and hosts gardening classes and programs at the Anderson Learning Center, located at 21 Bradeen St. in Springvale.

The options and support for gardening have never been better, and those who are thinking of giving it a try should get planning and find a way to make their own garden a reality. And while planting seeds for a summer filled with fresh produce, drop a few more seeds in the ground for those in need.

For more information or to sign up for the Maine Harvest for Hunger program, visit or contact Tkacik at or 324-2814.

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