'Plant a Row' Volunteers Support Local Food Pantries

Volunteers with Prince William County, Virginia, Cooperative Extension collect unsold fruits and vegetables from farmers markets for distribution to area food banks.

During the growing season, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Prince William, Virginia Master Gardener Volunteers reap rewards from local farmers each week by collecting unsold fruits, vegetables, flowers, and bakery items at local farmers markets, and distributing to needy families through food pantries. This project, Plant a Row for the Hungry, has been managed by staff and volunteers at VCE Prince William since 2001.

This Plant a Row initiative supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) goals for fighting hunger, combating childhood obesity, and providing safe, nutritious food to communities. NIFA plays a key role in the mission by distributing annual congressionally appropriated formula grants to supplement Cooperative Extension’s state and county funds.

VCE collaborates with Vulcan Materials, Manassas Quarry, who provide trucks and staff to assist with transporting produce. Typical produce collections average 2,500 to 4,000 pounds per week. At the peak of the season, it is not unusual to receive 7,000 pounds, or more of food. These donations are often the only fresh food supplements to the diet of needy families. In 2016, over 99,000 pounds of nutritious food reached the neediest citizens in the community. Farmers, in turn, receive a tax receipt for their donation.

“The partnership between the Master Gardner Volunteers and our food pantry has been wonderful. Participants in the food pantry have limited funds. Fresh food can be cost prohibitive, but is so important to a healthy diet. The Master Gardener Volunteers and Vulcan Materials Manassas Quarry employees are key to providing consistent fresh food. We, at ACTS, are truly grateful,” said Melissa Napora, Food Pantry Manager Action Through Community Service

Volunteers donated 556 hours to this project in 2016.

2017 looks like it is going to be a highly nutritious year! From April through June, 39,000 pounds have already been collected with many more peaches, zucchini, pumpkins, apples, and tomatoes left during the growing season.

[This article was first published June 29, 2017, on the Prince William County (Virginia) Cooperative Extension website.]

Related Information

Challenge Area: 
Food Security
Farm Bill Priority Areas: 
Food safety, nutrition, and health
U.S. States and Territories: 
Virginia