Grow Another Row helps spread wealth
Believe it or not, someone wants those zucchini you can’t persuade your neighbors to take anymore.
An organization called Grow Another Row, started by a Grand Valley woman, is happy to arrange for your zucchini to find its way to a hungry person’s plate. And it all started with a little inspiration from a tomato-eating toddler, a prolific plum tree and others doing good.
Amanda McQuade, a stay-at-home mother of three in Grand Junction, founded the organization four years ago. It all started when her and her husband Kyle’s oldest son was a toddler. As soon as Lincoln could get around on his own, he began to graze in the garden, taking random bites out of peppers still hanging on the plants.
Seeing her toddler ravenously devour all the cherry tomatoes in the garden made McQuade think about where other kids were getting their food, or in some cases, not getting the food they needed.
“It was on our radar, people being hungry,” she said.
The McQuades counted themselves lucky to be able to afford the variety of produce their son wanted to eat, but realized that others couldn’t foot the bill.
At the same time, they had a scraggly plum tree in the yard that produced a bounty of fruit, which they tried to schlep off on the neighbors. One of her neighbors suggested taking the excess fruit to The Salvation Army, which McQuade was surprised to discover actually wanted the produce.
These events and inspiration from an organization in Moscow, Idaho, led McQuade to form Grow Another Row. She learned of Backyard Harvest in her mother’s weekly, handwritten letters from Idaho and was inspired by the organization.
Here’s how Grow Another Row works: Growers with excess produce contact McQuade. She arranges for a pickup of the produce, usually once a week, which is then distributed to a soup kitchen, food bank, shelter or other organization where people who need the produce have access to it.
She has a few volunteers who help with pick-up routes, but often it is McQuade driving around with a van full of produce packed around her three children.
Now, McQuade’s son is 5 years old and still eats fruits and vegetables all day long. And to date, Grow Another Row has distributed more than 15 tons of fruits and vegetables to community members who wouldn’t otherwise have access to this produce.
McQuade still gets choked up when she talks about her first donation at the Mesa County Supplemental Food Bank, which challenged her idea of who is food insecure in the community.
A stately, elderly woman dressed in an elegant wool suit came to the food bank that day.
“It was clearly a piece of clothing she had held onto for 50 years,” McQuade said. “She had heels and pantyhose on and she went in there and she came out with five boxes of kids’ sugary cereal, cans of peaches and eggs,” she said. The woman loaded the food into an old Cadillac that was probably gorgeous in its heyday, but like her suit, was clearly a remnant of a long-gone time of plenty.
“She wasn’t embarrassed or holding her head down or anything,” McQuade said. “But she clearly had a lot of dignity, and I thought something’s happened here ... and she’s going home with a box of sugar cereal.”
Growers don’t have to be large-scale farmers to donate to Grow Another Row. Most of the growers are backyard gardeners like Ray Clover.
Clover, 83, grew accustomed to tending a garden large enough to feed his family of five children as well as all the in-home day care children his wife, Betty, cared for. But Betty died in 2010, the day care children are gone, and his own children have their own families and live far away.
After almost 61 years of marriage, Clover was alone and growing a huge garden. That’s when he found a leaflet from Grow Another Row in his mailbox, which he still has tacked to a bulletin board. Now in his third year of donating produce, he’s given more than 700 pounds of vegetables to the organization.
Despite persistent back pain and his arthritic right knee, Clover enjoys every part of tending a garden, even pulling his “archenemy” weeds. He likes to be out in the sun, wearing his pith helmet to protect his ears from sunburn.
“I like be out in the garden,” he said, “That’s why I’ve got a good answering machine.”
He’s happy to share his bounty with others, because it gives him a sense of purpose.
“I don’t have a whole lot else to do,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t garden, probably go crazy.”
Even after donating all the produce he grew himself, Clover continued to pay it forward. He recruited his friend, Marvin Carroll, to share produce with others. Clover even gives away seeds from his own garden to encourage others to grow their own. Neighbors come over to see if Clover has extra produce before their grocery store trips.
This ripple effect of sharing with others is exactly what McQuade’s dream is about. She envisions growers removing her organization as the middleman and directly donating to others, neighbors who need food or people at church who could use the produce, or other organizations that can get it to those who need it.
“My dream would be that people would see a bunch of zucchinis in their office break rooms and say, ‘Nobody wants these, so let’s pool together and donate them.’ “
People shouldn’t be deterred by thoughts that others might not want their produce, or that they don’t have enough to make a difference. Some of the places Grow Another Row distributes to can only use a small amount at a time anyway, and McQuade knows them well enough to tailor the distribution to what can be used.
For McQuade, it’s not just about food. It’s about breaking down barriers and getting people involved, connecting them with others. Every year, she wonders if she can handle organizing it all again. And ever year, she gleans energy and strength from her volunteers and growers.
“Having the experience with people who want to share and help others just makes you feel really good and honored to be a part of this and interact with them,” she said.