Ashe Outreach Ministries is kicking off their Out Grow Hunger program this spring with a goal to surpass last year’s total of 45,000 pounds of garden produce and other food items donated to fight food insecurity in Ashe County.
“I’d like it if we hit 60,000 this year,” said AOM Director Rob Brooks.
The OGH program is an initiative which “strives to unite commercial producers, home gardeners, churches, community organizations, and local governments, creating a community-wide effort to eliminate food insecurity, address child nutrition and empower the poor.”
The concept is simple: home gardeners commit to planting a few more vegetables this season, and donating the harvest to local food pantries. “We just ask people to grow an extra row,” Brooks said.
“Instead of a community garden, this is a community of gardens,” he said. “We ask people to grow and give. If enough people grow and give, everybody will have enough to eat.”
Last year, about half of the food donated to OGH — over 22 tons — came from Ashe gardens and farms, he said.
Brooks calls grow-and-give donations “food tithes.” “Everybody thinks about going to church and putting something in the offering plate,” he said, but most don’t think of offering home-grown vegetables.
Through OGH, churches can receive food tithes from their members and donate them to AOM. Donations are distributed to the needy through AOM and the other food pantries in the county — The Sharing Center, Ashe Really Cares and Jefferson Methodist Church.
“I want people to understand the need is great,” Brooks said.
In the last five years, demand for food assistance in Ashe has doubled, according to Department of Social Services figures and reports from local food pantries.
The OGH program is only in its second year, Brooks said, but neighbors have been sharing food in this way “since man harvested the first crop.”
But food assistance is only half of the OGH mission, said Development Manager Jane Gardner. The program also donates seeds and hand tools to needy families starting their own gardens, and helps with tilling.
Food preservation classes through the N.C. State Cooperative Extension teach families to can, dry and freeze food for their own pantries, said Gardner.
“We’re trying to help families be more self-sufficient,” she said.
Out Grow Hunger has a number of educational gardens beginning gardeners can visit to learn the basics of tilling, planting and tending a successful garden, she said. Mentors also volunteer time to help families get their gardens started.
The program is also looking for experienced gardeners who want to volunteer as mentors this year, Gardner said.
For more information on how you can contribute to Out Grow Hunger or get assistance starting your own garden, call (336)385-3663, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.