New kind of ‘share’ cropping in Park Ridge brings produce to pantries
Carol Longman and daughter Anne,12, hold up a plate of vegetables grown in their Park Ridge garden. Longman and other Park Ridge Community Church members have been donating their garden vegetables to women and children in need. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 14, 2012 12:16PM
PARK RIDGE — The tomatoes, zucchinis and a host of other vegetables growing in abundance in a number of Park Ridge gardens haven’t been going to waste this summer.
Thanks to a program organized through Park Ridge Community Church, garden vegetables are finding their way onto the dinner plates of women relying on food-pantry donations for themselves and their children.
Plant a Row for the Hungry was the creation of Park Ridge resident, church member and avid gardener Carol Longman. Longman, a lifelong gardener who always found herself with a surplus of vegetables at the end of each summer, began thinking of ways to share it with others.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if people who otherwise depend on items from a food pantry had access to fresh produce?’ ” Longman recounted.
Aware that other members of her congregation were also gardeners, Longman, former director of Christian education at Park Ridge Community Church, approached Pastor Brett McCleneghan, and the idea of Plant a Row for the Hungry was born.
In short, volunteers are encouraged to plant one extra row of vegetables in their backyard gardens and donate the additional crop to the church. The church has selected WINGS (Women in Need Growing Stronger) in Palatine as the recipient, the produce going directly to homeless victims of domestic violence and their children.
The aim of Plant a Row is to “provide nutritious food to people who might not otherwise have access to it,” Longman said. “The outcome I would love to see is that this continues to grow and we can provide more and more of that kind of food.”
A collection takes place each week at the church, 100 S. Courtland Ave.
This summer there was a bumper crop of zucchinis growing in Park Ridge gardens, with 21 pounds harvested from the church’s garden in just a week. Some of the harvest was used to make loaves of chocolate-chip zucchini bread for the teenagers who took part in a youth mission trip this summer.
During another week in August the church collected 22 pounds of tomatoes, as well as 4 pounds of green beans, six cucumbers, two eggplants, squash and Swiss chard — the majority coming from the large Park Ridge garden of Nan and Chris Parson.
“I think it’s just one more example of a program that allows one to give back to one’s community and there’s not a downside to that, in my opinion,” said Chris Parson who has kept a garden since moving to Park Ridge in the early-1970s.
In the past the garden fed the Parsons’ family of six; more recently Chris and wife Nan found themselves sharing their extra crops with neighbors and friends.
The Plant a Row project has opened this sharing opportunity to an even larger number of individuals.
“We thought we should give it to someone who could use it,” Chris Parson said.
About a half-dozen church families have been predominantly involved in the project, Longman said. Park Ridge Community Church’s own garden, located next to a church-owned house on Crescent Avenue between Prospect and Courtland, has also produced its share — including watermelons — thanks to Longman’s cultivation efforts.
“It’s really turned out great,” she said. “It exceeded my expectations.”
Fresh produce is something not always available from food pantries, so the donations have been a welcome gift, said Beth Gardham, director of community resources for WINGS.
“We are very thankful,” Gardham said. “It came as a great surprise. I didn’t contact them — they contacted us. They’ve just given us some great stuff and it’s just so wonderful to have fresh produce.”
Anyone in the community is invited to make a donation. Fruits and vegetables will be accepted between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Sunday mornings through Oct. 28 at Park Ridge Community Church, 100 S. Courtland Ave.
For more information go to plantarow.webs.com.