PHS recruits thousands of gardeners to grow produce for food pantries during pandemic

Gardeners donated more than 34,000 pounds of produce.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society gardening
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society launched the Harvest 2020 initiative in May, coordinating the efforts of thousands of gardeners in the region to grow and donate food to help feed the hungry. Photo credit Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gardening is proving to be an effective way to help fight hunger during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society launched the Harvest 2020 initiative in May, coordinating the efforts of thousands of gardeners in the region to grow and donate food to help feed the hungry.

“We really tried to invite everybody to get involved and made it easy for people to participate by creating some really comprehensive tools on our website,” said Julianna Schrader Ortega, PHS vice president and chief of the Healthy Neighborhoods program. “Over 10,400 people have joined in.”

PHS partnered with food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the region. Then, home gardeners were encouraged to grow greens and root vegetables, which could withstand the journey from garden to food pantry. Produce like tomatoes are more tender and bruise easily.

“We also created maps of soup kitchens and food pantries that were eager for home-gardener produce,” said Schrader Ortega, “and also with information around what days were they accepting the produce and what’s the contact information of the person at the soup kitchen and food pantry.”

According to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, almost 12% of households in the greater Philadelphia region struggle with food insecurity, and that number likely doubled during the pandemic.

As a result, food pantries have had nearly 50% more demand.

“We’re committed to helping people use gardening to advance the health and well-being of the community,” she added, “and one of the things we’re really focused on is food access through gardening. For about 50 years, we’ve been helping community gardeners throughout the region to grow and share produce. We’ve tapped into that work to help home gardeners so they can grow and share produce with neighbors and communities. That work is going to continue.”

Since the launch of Harvest 2020, more than 34,000 pounds of produce were donated. But according to a survey among the gardeners, only about half of them kept track of how much produce they gave away, so Schrader Ortega said the actual total is probably much greater.

The organization also utilized online webinars, dubbed “grow-inars,” to help first-time gardeners navigate their garden beds.

“We hadn't really offered online gardening courses before the pandemic,” Schrader Ortega noted, “and we did everything in person. We have learned that there’s a lot of power for people to log in from home.”