Plant a Row for the
It was a cold night in Washington, D.C., and I was heading back to the hotel
when a man approached me. He asked if I would give him some money so he could
get something to eat. I'd read the signs: "Don't give money to panhandlers." So
I shook my head and kept walking.
I wasn't prepared for a reply, but with resignation, he said, "I really am
homeless and I really am hungry! You can come with me and watch me eat!" But I
kept on walking.
The incident bothered me for the rest of the week. I had money in my pocket
and it wouldn't have killed me to hand over a buck or two even if he had been
lying. On a frigid, cold night, no less, I assumed the worst of a fellow human
Flying back to Anchorage, I couldn't help thinking of him. I tried to
rationalize my failure to help by assuming government agencies, churches and
charities were there to feed him. Besides, you're not supposed to give money to
Somewhere over Seattle, I started to write my weekly garden column for The
Anchorage Daily News. Out of the blue, I came up with an idea. Bean's Cafe, the
soup kitchen in Anchorage, feeds hundreds of hungry Alaskans every day. Why not
try to get all my readers to plant one row in their gardens dedicated to Bean's?
Dedicate a row and take it down to Bean's. Clean and simple.
We didn't keep records back then, but the idea began to take off. Folks would
fax me or call when they took something in. Those who only grew flowers donated
them. Food for the spirit. And salve for my conscience.
In 1995, the Garden Writers Association of America held their annual
convention in Anchorage and after learning of Anchorage's program, Plant a Row
for Bean's became Plant a Row For The Hungry. The original idea was to have
every member of the Garden Writers Association of America write or talk about
planting a row for the hungry sometime during the month of April.
As more and more people started working with the Plant a Row concept, new
variations cropped up, if you will pardon the pun. Many companies gave free seed
to customers and displayed the logo, which also appeared in national gardening
Row markers with the Plant a Row logo were distributed to
gardeners to set apart their "Row for the Hungry."
Garden editor Joan Jackson, backed by The San Jose Mercury News and
California's nearly year-round growing season, raised more than 30,000 pounds of
fruits and vegetables her first year, and showed GWAA how the program could
Texas fruit farms donated food to their local food bank after being inspired
by Plant a Row. Today the program continues to thrive and grow.
I am stunned that millions of Americans are threatened by hunger. If every
gardener in America - and we're seventy million strong - plants one row for the
hungry, we can make quite a dent in the number of neighbors who don't have
enough to eat. Maybe then I will stop feeling guilty about abandoning a hungry
man I could have helped.