Autumn is harvest time and many gardeners in Utah are pulling up plenty of vegetables from their local plots. Some will give their surplus veggies to friends and family, but one Salt Lake City school is donating their produce to those who need it most.
Students at Nibley Park Elementary rush out the school doors after the final bell rings. A small group heads to a quiet corner of the schoolyard where Aimee Horman, Chair of the School’s Community Council, leads a different kind of after school activity.
“I need everything that’s ripe to be picked, okay. It looks like a lot of tomatoes, eggplants, carrots,” says Aimee Horman
Horman, along with other parents and teachers partnered with the organization Utahns Against Hunger and their Grow –a-row program. It encourages individual and community gardeners to donate an extra row of produce to local food pantries. Nibley Park students planted 28 rows for donation. Horman says she saw an opportunity to use extra outdoor space at her children’s school.
“No one uses it for anything. We’ve got a little bit of a slope, it’s not a good PE place, it’s got these big drains. It’s the perfect spot for a garden,” says Horman.
It’s now harvest time and students wander back and forth reaping the fruits of their labors: a colorful variety of vegetables. Tending the garden has been an entire school effort. A few hundred blue and red handprints on the garden bed walls mark each individual’s signature. Horman’s daughter Tabitha says this artistic creativity extended to the planting.
“Like we don’t just want just, you know, a bunch of tomatoes to eat. We want like, some classes made a salsa garden. It’s just really cool how they grew all the stuff they needed to, you know, combine with a bunch of other food,” says Tabitha Horman.
The combinations seem endless when the group starts describing what they picked.
“We got cherry tomatoes, just normal tomatoes, eggplants, little mini eggplants. These ones are called black Naghiri, see how their sort of dark. And there are pepper,” say the kids.
The kids carry two full crates to a van, and once all cargo is secure, they’re ready to deliver it.
One in seven Utah house holds experiences food insecurity every year according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA defines a household as “food insecure” if at times, adequate food can’t be provided to one or more family members because of a lack of money or resources. Sara Crowder, an Americorps Vista Member, coordinates the Grow a Row program for UAH. She says adequate means having enough fresh fruits and vegetables for a well-balanced diet.
“I would say it’s definitely a right to have access to fresh food, and just like having access to water, it’s something that we need. It sustains us,” says Sara Crowder.
While many UAH initiatives are policy and advocacy based, Crowder says this one’s different. The organization is merely the messenger while community members themselves push the program forward.
“So there are a lot of people out there that do have extra food or that are really tired of squash, and aren’t sure what to do with it. And a lot of it is just telling them where they can go to drop off their food, so what food pantries are accepting food, when are the hours, what are the locations,” says Crowder.
One of the delivery stops on the route is The Utah Aids Foundation, located in Salt Lake’s Sugar House neighborhood.
Duane Abplanalp is the client services coordinator for the foundation. He leads Horman and the students to a small room with shelves of nonperishable foods. The foundation receives 90 percent of its donations from the Utah Food Bank, while the other 10 percent comes from private donations like this Grow-a-row contribution.
“The summer stuff is really fresh and great. We’re really dependent on just local sugarhouse gardeners who bring stuff from their backyard,” says Duane Abplanalp.
Abplanalp says access to fresh food offers his clients a healthy way to live. Many people are introduced to new fruits and vegetables through donations and learn how to include them in their daily diet.
“But now that they’ve experienced the difference in what they taste like, how versatile it can be, either fresh or cooked, you know the preference is always fresh now,” says Abplanalp.
Back at the school, Aimee Horman says the long-term nature of the Grow a Row project helps students fulfill a constant human need in their own community.
“But this became a meaningful way for kids to give back. I’m like let’s just grow it, whatever you want to grow, let’s grow it,” says Horman.
Fall planting at Nibley Park is already underway and Horman expects their 28 rows to grow in the future.