Plant a Row for the Hungry with help from Cornell

The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County (CCE) has led a people-helping-people campaign to stem hunger in the region since 1995, when it launched Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR), asking local gardeners to grow a little extra and donate the produce to those in need. Every year since, soup kitchens and food banks that serve homeless and hungry folks have been the recipients of a bounty of excess veggies. And gardeners who share their produce get the pleasure of making a difference in people’s nutritional welfare.

It’s a winning formula for everyone involved. As planting season approaches, consider putting in those last few seeds from each packet. Think about the joy of delivering bags of fresh, washed vegetables to a designated location. Imagine new tastes being introduced to kids who think that carrots and corn come from a plastic bag in the freezer section of the supermarket.

Donating to community members in need could not be easier. Locally, fresh produce can be dropped off at the CCE office in Kingston Plaza, Family of New Paltz, Caring Hands Soup Kitchen at the Methodist Church in Kingston or at any food bank or facility regularly providing meals to families and individuals who are otherwise going without.

The CCE master gardeners will provide free soil-testing, an information packet that suggests what to grow and how to plant it, free “Plant a Row” veggie markers and ongoing horticultural advice. You can also sign up for a Garden Tip of the Week, e-mailed during growing season. Contact Dona Crawford at (845) 340-3990, extension 335, for registration information – and get planting! (Well, maybe get planning to put seeds in the ground when we have some solid spring sunshine.)

Be assured that nothing will go to waste. Nutrition educators at CCE will distribute and use the produce when they go out to give hands-on, sometimes one-on-one instruction as to exactly how to cook the unprocessed foods. Coordinated by Kerry Valencia, the Eat Smart, Live Well program works with low-to-moderate-income families, children and seniors residing in Ulster County. Two nutrition educators are trained to assist people in safe and delicious food-preparation methods. Some classes take place at CCE, while at other times a nutrition educator will go into an individual’s home kitchen to cook. Valencia reports that 300 participants were served by the program last year.

CCE Ulster County has two special events lined up this month. A one-day gardening extravaganza is planned for Saturday, April 14 at SUNY-Ulster in Stone Ridge. From 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with a lineup of classes, free soil-testing, a bake sale, free information handouts, garden catalogues and magazines and a marketplace of local garden vendors. The keynote speaker is Jane Mt. Pleasant, associate professor in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University. Preregistration is $35, registration at the door is $40 and a box lunch is available for $8. Meanwhile, in Kingston on the same Saturday, the 2012 CSA Fair will take place at Fair Street Reformed Church from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Learn about Community Supported Agriculture and meet local farmers.

For more information call (845) 340-3990, or the Master Gardener Horticulture Hotline at (845) 340-DIRT (3478) any Monday, Wednesday or Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon. Details about the Plant a Row for the Hungry campaign can be found at www.cceulster.org/MG/MG. A reminder for anyone who preordered seedlings from the Master Gardener Seedling Sale in March: Pickup is on Wednesday and Thursday, April 18 and 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ulster County Fairgrounds or on Friday, April 20 (same time) and Saturday, April 21 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Ulster County Highway Garage at 66 Hurley Avenue in Kingston.

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