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Grow A Row: Food sharing on Lopez Island

Sep 16th, 2010 | Category: Community, Food

The door of the Grow A Row station on school grounds features artwork signed by artist Sandy Polk. The program started in June. PHOTO COURTESY OF DENISE McINTOSH


On Lopez Island, a recently launched project called Grow A Row is gaining ground. Farmers and gardeners are encouraged to grow an extra row of vegetables or berries in their gardens, to be donated to a local food bank system providing free fruit and vegetables to anyone who needs it.
“When I heard that 47 percent of our school children qualify for the subsidized lunch program, I decided to move ahead with my idea,” said Lopez Island resident Denise McIntosh.
She attended a local “Food Charrette” – a meeting organized by The Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT), held in January on the island. The charrette assessed what kind of food is produced on the island, and identified the gaps that exist in food production; and what the current needs are in terms of access to freshly harvested food for families with children and for elderly residents on the island.
The LCLT issued an analysis of their findings, and stated: “The regulation of agriculture is based on corporate agri-business, and is inappropriate and onerous to the small family farms.” The analysis stated that land and housing costs are very high for starter farmers, and discussed how to develop adequate support for local farming.
Following these discussions, McIntosh, with a group of around 12 volunteers, began the task of setting up access points for food donations. The local Lions Club and the LCLT donated money. With the combined donations of $1,200, the group of volunteers donated their time to establish three food donation points, and bought containers and equipment for storing food at the three locations.
“Volunteers from The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program helped decorate the stands,” McIntosh said. She commented that it was a valuable experience to be able to create such an important project with such a small amount of money. With the help of her partner Tim and other volunteers, McIntosh constructed one stand and renovated two others, establishing three locations where gardeners can drop off freshly harvested food.
The project began operating in June. The three food stands are open throughout the day and night, and people come in and help themselves to food at their own convenience.
“I make sure there are plastic and paper bags available,” McIntosh said. She said she has noticed that people tend to take only what they need, and that people who come to the food stands take time to clean the premises and keep the stands neat and tidy – a sign of “taking on ownership”, she mused.
McIntosh told that groups of Grow A Row volunteers now help senior citizens on the island to harvest their apples, pears and other fruit. The owner gets a share of the fruit, the volunteer pickers get shares, and the remainder is harvested for the Grow A Row project, she explained.
McIntosh commented that the local school district has initiated a program to teach school children how to grow their own food. The program, called the LIFE Farm and Garden Program, has become a success attracting attention from other school districts, even as far away as from Martha’s Vineyard on the East Coast.
To donate food, money or time, contact Denise McIntosh at

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