Feeding Ourselves and Others Sustainably

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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Whether you have a large and sprawling garden or a small selection of potted vegetables on your porch, you may end up with extra produce to share. Even if you make money selling your extra veggies, please consider sharing quality food with your local food bank.

The photo below shows a classic assortment from one western-central Ohio pantry. This particular grouping was for a family of four (one adult and three teens) for a one-month period. Think about that. Look at the photo closely and consider how far you could make this food stretch.

I want to be clear here that I am not being critical of food banks. They are essential programs that have definite monetary constraints. It’s important that we give them more so that they can give out more.

Granted, most families might have access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food stamps for additional sustenance—though for how long with the current administration cutting right and left we can’t tell. The lucky ones might have access to transportation and may be able to access a second food pantry or other charitable source. However, there are a growing number of families finding themselves food insecure.

Many communities have instituted free lunches once a week or more for children in need but what about the adults? It’s my opinion that there is much more that we could collectively do. I personally began doing more this past winter when I started baking extra sourdough boules for our local food pantry. I hate throwing anything away (including sourdough starter), so I decided to check with our coordinator to see if they would accept home-baked bread. She was thrilled with the offer.

At the same time I was baking bread, I was also planning my garden. I decided that though I’d been sharing my pole bean overflow in the past with neighbors, I could easily plant extra for sharing with the pantry. So far, I’ve delivered 7 bags this season along with my usual array of sourdough. I’ve also shared some of this year’s crop of tomatoes—had I been enjoying the bounty of last year’s tomato crop this season, I would also be taking bowls full. Maybe next year.

You might want to stick with normal vegetables unless you are willing to stay and explain what your donation is and how to cook it. I’ve taken ground hot peppers—grown and ground by me—that didn’t go until I told recipients that it was just like the paprika or chili pepper they buy in a grocery store but fresher and organically grown. I took in some freshly ground blue corn flour that sat there for three weeks. I brought it back home and made it into corn bread then it flew out the door. I took a large Rampicante zucchini that had cured—it sat there for weeks. Once I explained that it was like a butternut squash it became more acceptable.

Vital things to keep in mind:

Check your local rules regarding donations
Give your highest quality
Consider shelf life
If you don’t spray your crops, don’t give possibly wormy fruits and veggies
Omit items that need immediate refrigeration unless the pantry is set up for such things
Give what you would like to receive

Most pantries are first-come, first-served for the fresh food or extras so plan accordingly. I bake two large boules of sourdough bread and vary the flavor. I’ve taken plain, cranberry pecan, raisin walnut, garlic scape, and pesto loaves to share. At first I was baking mini boules but was happier with halving the larger loaves. Thankfully, our local coordinator is fine with what I bring as are the recipients. Larger locales might be more finicky. If I had to, I’d switch to using loaf pans in order to fit guidelines.

I solicited a donation of plastic vegetable bags from our local Kroger store to pack my bread and veggies in. I would have been thrilled with the end rolls that I asked for but the manager went one better and told me to come back the following week so I could pick up a whole roll! You never know until you ask.

Even if you don’t currently yield enough from your garden, consider adding an extra dozen canned organic fruit or veggies for donation. You may live in an area where the food pantries supply plenty of quality food—I’ve heard that the west coast regularly gives organic or healthy alternatives including gluten free or vegetarian choices. If so, consider donating instead to a homeless or domestic abuse shelter or give the gift of time by volunteering.

I urge each of you to consider what you might do to help. You never know who might be positively affected by your generosity.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online atHumings andBeing Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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