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Monday 9 December 2013

Food banks start small gardens to grow fresh produce for needy, how to start your own

Food banks or food pantries are non-profit charitable organizations that find ways to collect, store and distribute free food to the truly needy.

Most who help out are volunteers, and their funding depends largely on the government, non-government foundation grants, businesses and individual donations. Matching grant funds to individual donations are common.

The first food bank in the world was St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance in Arizona, founded by retired business man John van Hengal in 1967 and still strong today. While volunteering at St. Vincent's soup kitchen, John met a woman who came often and told him that she depended on the soup kitchen and supermarket dumpsters to survive.

That's when John got the idea for the food bank, which has since been replicated in several cities in every American state and many other nations. At first, food banks relied on food processing rejects or excess retail warehouse packaged foods that were considered marginal or too close to the "sell by" date to go on the shelves.

But initially, they distributed almost no fresh produce directly from agriculture.

A shift toward fresh food from the soil

As the food processing industry and grocery industry became better at avoiding banged up packaging or letting food items pass their sale dates, the availability of free or low-cost food for free distribution dwindled.

And as the unhealthy nature of processed foods became more obvious to a greater number of people, supplying fresh produce gradually became the goal of many food banks.

A major player in this movement was Bill Folz of the California Association of Food Banks, who developed the Farm to Family project. He and his colleagues became gleaners, picking out vegetables and fruits that were rejected as unworthy for retailers though still edible and nutritious.

But the level of gleaning was way beyond walking through fields after a harvest and collecting what was unsuitable for the marketplace in sacks. This project evolved into collecting massive amounts of produce at very low costs from farm storage facilities that weren't getting sold to retailers or through food brokers.

Highly nutritious white sweet potatoes were among the first and easiest to collect for next to nothing. Those potatoes don't have the secondary processed food market (chips, canned pie fillings, etc.) to purchase them that orange sweet potatoes enjoy.

The challenges of procuring fresh foods varied according to the types of food. Some foods that weren't up to being sold as-is in retail could be sold to food processors who made snack or ready-made canned variations from them. Some others, especially fruits, were too ripe to be sold and needed to be stored under intense refrigeration.

But in a few short years, the Farm to Family project of the California Association of Food Banks has met those challenges with a capacity of collecting over 80 million pounds of produce for distribution.

Now, some food banks are even growing their own produce. A food bank in Vermont purchased a 20-acre farm a few years ago.

Most recently, a food bank in a suburb of Philadelphia's Chester County has joined 20 other food banks that grow some of their own, providing a fourth to a third of what they distribute. The Chester County food bank has over 12 acres spread out into smaller lots, some with covered grow housing.

Agricultural director Bill Shick notes that volunteers are more excited to participate in the growing process than simply placing cans into boxes or stuffing envelopes.

Most of what they grow are leafy vegetables that would require expensive refrigeration if procured from outside farms. In addition to providing higher nutrition to needy families, this keeps food bank overhead costs down.

10 Simple, Cheap Home Gardening Innovations to Set You on the Path to Food Independence

he issue of food quality and food independence is of critical importance these days, and people are recognizing just how easy and fun it is to grow your own food at home. When renegade gardener Ron Finley said, “growing your own food is like printing money,” he was remarking on the revolutionary nature of re-establishing control over your health and your pocket book as a means of subverting the exploitative and unhealthy food systems that encourage the over-consumption of processed and fast foods.

Thanks to the internet, the availability of parts and materials, and good old-fashioned ingenuity, there is a wide range of in-home, and in-apartment, gardening systems that are easy to construct and maintain, and that can provide nutritious, organic, and low-cost food for you and your family. Once you realize jut how rewarding home gardening can be, it is tremendously fun to experiment with different systems and ideas for best producing your favorite healthy, fresh fruits and veggies.

Since everyone’s gardening space, interests and budgets differ, here are 10 simple ideas and how to’s for getting a small, affordable, and easy to construct gardening system up and running in your home.


Aquaponics is growing in popularity as a versatile method of growing nutritious vegetables while raising fish, combining hydroponic gardening with aquaculture. Systems can be built to fit in almost any location, indoors or outdoors, and can be designed for almost any crop or edible fish.

Read: Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together

Here is a simple affordable home aquaponics system that can be adapted. Be sure to read the comments below the video for additional insight and afterthoughts on this simple system…

This is a great example of an apartment size indoor aquaponics system…

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardening is a terrific method of growing more plants in a smaller area by constructing standing or hanging planters that can house many plants in a small space.

Read:  Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space 

The easy and affordable example below can be adapted for many different fruits and veggies, or scaled for larger purposes…

The following video is an example of a simple and cheap, stand-up pallet vertical garden…

Simple Greenhouse Designs

Greenhouses are imperative for starting many types of edible plants and can also offer protection against some garden pests while increasing the length of your growing season.

Read: Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion, Revised: Growing Food & Flowers in Your Greenhouse or Sunspace

Easy to build hoop house green house how-to…

How to build a backyard fence-rested greenhouse…

 Cold Frames for Winter Gardening

Cold frames are an excellent and affordable way of growing nutritious ground crops in colder climates and during the winter…

Read: Backyard Winter Gardening: Vegetables Fresh and Simple, In Any Climate without Artificial Heat or Electricity the Way It’s Been Done for 2,000 Years

Simple winter cold frame garden…


Composting is an essential part of every garden, is the best way to dispose of everyday organic kitchen refuse, and provides free plant-food for your garden.

Read: Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting (Third Edition) (Storey’s Down-To-Earth Guides)

3-bin compost system using free pallets…

Cheap do-it-yourself worm composter…

Ideas for Apartment Gardening

Living in an apartment can mean you have to be more creative and imaginative with the space you have. Here are some resources and ideas for finding and setting up your apartment garden.

Read: Apartment Gardening: Plants, Projects, and Recipes for Growing Food in Your Urban Home

Here are some useful tips on finding space for your apartment garden…

We hope that you find the inspiration to find out for yourself just how easy, fun, and liberating home gardening can be as further stress on our collective food systems continues to drive up prices and drive down nutrition.

Gardening is both addictive and contagious, so be prepared to have fun, grow some tasty food, and meet some new friends once your neighbors hear about your success.

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