Gardeners asked to Grow-A-Row

Access to healthy food shouldn’t be a privilege.

Island County Public Health Coordinator Nicole Whittington-Johnson is trying to spread the word to gardeners and farmers that extra produce is needed at local food banks.

She is helping launch the county’s Grow-a-Row program, which encourages people to plant an extra row designated for donation.

“We’re just trying to grow a healthy community and recognize it’s a need we’re able to meet,” she said.

She’s created a monthly newsletter available on the public health website to provide reminders to donate, give information about food banks’ hours of operation, give tips and suggestions for the most popular items. The most in-demand produce items include carrots, zucchini, broccoli, berries and tomatoes, she said. But anything in any amount helps.

“If a 100 people were to donate every month, even just a handful of radishes, that’s a huge impact,” Whittington-Johnson said.

And for those utilizing the food banks, she’s going to start up cooking classes in the summer to give people ideas for what to do with the food. She’ll be focusing on quick, relatively simple meals that can be prepared with the available fruits and vegetables.

She hopes those who donate are engaged with the process as well. In her newsletter, she plans to occasionally publish stories of the positive impact those donations are making. She also hopes people will get their children and grandchildren involved, and use it “as a lesson in kindness, not just a dutiful obligation.”

For many who are financially struggling, it’s easier to cut costs in food choices than in rent or bills, she said. She encourages Whidbey Island residents to engage in the program to help out their neighbors.

“Being able to provide these fresh fruits and vegetables kind of deepens our sense of community and our sense of place in providing for that immediate need,” Whittington-Johnson said. “It’s recognizing it’s a sacrifice people shouldn’t have to make.”