Pay it forward at the Sharing Gardens project
September 21, 2012
High School senior Zane Weinberger is developing a pilot project requiring little more than a car, a laptop and surplus produce from backyard gardens that he hopes will someday inspire people nationwide to feed the hungry.
It's an idea that's been percolating in young Weinberger's head for over a year since he first noticed six apple trees in his yard were dropping more fruit than his family could eat.
He made an effort to get the extra food to a place that distributes to those in need but found it took some work. That's when the idea for his program, "Sharing Gardens," was born. He realized other home gardeners must have more food than they can eat, too.
"I can pick up this food and get it to people who need it," he said.
With the help of his dad and a handful of community supporters, Weinberger designed a program and website, http://www.sharinggardens.org, that works much like curbside recycling.
Gardeners sign up and create an account online that includes a database set up to record pounds of produce donations for each individual.
When gardeners have extra produce to donate, they send Weinberger an email the night before pickup. Weinberger plans to pick up produce twice a week from neighborhood front porches and curbsides in the early morning before school.
He's posted fliers around town and sent out mass emails to community members trying to get the word out about a program he feels will make a difference.
This spring, Weinberger dug a 5-foot-by-8-foot garden bed and planted the space with heirloom tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, basil and carrots with a plan to donate his harvest to the Nevada County Food Bank.
The tomatoes took over and shaded out the basil and carrots, but the small plot is producing food for families who might not have access to fresh vegetables.
"It's produced a lot. I've been donating pretty regularly," he said.
He hopes to encourage others in the community to set aside a raised bed in their gardens to feed the hungry next season.
Weinberger is excited about the community support for his project. Last week, some local gardeners donated squash and watermelon. So far, Weinberger has donated about 50 pounds of food.
"If I can donate a large amount of food, a large number of people can eat," Weinberger said.
Nevada County Food Bank serves an average of 2,920 low-income individuals, including families with children and seniors each month, and the numbers are still rising.
Nationwide, millions of Americans, as many as one in six people, know hunger on a daily basis, according to the Nevada County Food Bank website.
"I've seen that there are a lot of people who regularly go to the food bank and people I know who are on the school lunch program … Sometimes it's not always easy to tell. There are always people in the community who need help," Weinberger said.
The idea of taking surplus garden produce as a source of food to feed the poor is nothing new and is something the Nevada County Food Bank has invited the community to do for years.
Last year, a donated Frito Lay truck was converted into a pick-up and distribution vehicle, connecting the dots between local farms, backyard gardeners and people in need.
Similarly, the group Gold Country Gleaners, formed last summer, regularly organizes an army of volunteers, 200 to choose from, who regularly go out with ladders, pruners and baskets harvesting extra food that might otherwise rot in the compost pile.
To date the group has donated several tons of fresh food to local charities such as the Salvation Army, the North San Juan Family Resource Center, the Spirit Peer Empowerment Center, Women of Worth and more.
Mountain Bounty Farm has faithfully donated hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables each week since the spring, said member Hilary Hodge.
In late July, about 10 volunteers spent several days picking 300 pounds of blueberries at Lazy Valley Blueberry Ranch in Penn Valley and distributed the fruit to the food bank. Recently, a team of volunteers retrieved apples, plums and figs from Troll Knoll Farm in Penn Valley.
Despite the healthy turnout of volunteers and large volumes of food collected, there are still massive quantities that could be salvaged, said Hodge.
"For right now, I would say that our greatest obstacle is in getting people to donate. We have been incredibly productive this year, but there are still trees that go unpicked. There are still farms that toss so much of their production into the compost pile," Hodge said.
Though young, Weinberger has a history of volunteering and believes strongly in community engagement. He recently helped remove trash from Deer Creek during the 15th annual Greater Yuba River Cleanup and Restoration Day led by the South Yuba River Citizens League and regularly helps out at the Celtic Festival.
Next year, Weinberger will go off to college, but he is hopeful another student or member of the community will take over the Sharing Gardens project and keep it going.
"I'm excited about it. I hope the community is, too."
Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at (530) 401-4877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.