GardenShare marks 20 years of service to the community

GardenShare marks 20 years of service to the community

The Roots of GardenShare
Phil Harnden
January 18, 2016

GardenShare traces its roots to the North Country Garden School, which I founded in 1994 as a way for people (including novices like me) to learn skills for gardening in northern New York State. Led by veteran gardeners, the Garden School taught an ecologically responsible style of gardening appropriate for our cold climate. Each year several hundred gardeners attended our workshops, tours, films, and lectures.

But I wondered if the Garden School could do more. Before moving to the North Country, I had worked for a decade with a community of people deeply influenced by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Our nonprofit organization, begun in 1965, was based in a Philadelphia neighborhood of spirited and determined African-Americans, and we focused our work on issues such as racism, hunger, and poverty.

I knew that my new home was in one of New York State’s most impoverished counties. How could I shine a light on that reality? What might inspire people to take action, especially the people who attended Garden School events each year? For those gardeners, the answer seemed simple: food.

I knew that gardeners were interested in food, and I knew that most gardens grow an overabundance of food each summer. I thought that encouraging gardeners to share their harvests with their neighbors might, as a first step, get them engaged with the issues of hunger and poverty in the North Country.

So in 1996 a brochure describing the new “GardenShare Project” was handed out at Garden School workshops and mailed to the 500 gardeners on the school’s mailing list. The brochure encouraged these gardeners to donate homegrown vegetables to participating food pantries. Gardeners had to deliver the food themselves because I wanted them to visit the food pantries and see firsthand the reality of hunger in our county.

Clearly food pantries were providing a vital and necessary service, and over the next several years GardenShare’s network of dedicated gardeners grew. But from the beginning, I knew that charity alone would not end hunger. That’s why I provided each recruit with literature about the root causes of hunger and suggestions for additional actions they could take to address these causes. I continued to recruit gardeners for harvest sharing, but I wanted to do more.

In 2001, GardenShare incorporated as a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending hunger. Our board of directors and a host of other dedicated volunteers began exploring new strategies. Like other anti-hunger organizations across the country, our work to end hunger had opened our eyes to broader issues of food and farming. We began to embrace a larger vision of a secure and fair food system, a vision embodied in what became our motto: “Healthy Food ~ Healthy Farms ~ Everybody Eats.”

As a result of this larger vision, GardenShare pioneered programs to
• make farmers’ markets accessible to EBT shoppers
• promote CSA farms and make CSA memberships affordable for all
• publish an annual Local Food Guide
• support farm-to-school projects
• organize the Food Day Youth Summits
• shift public policies toward food security
• and launch various other initiatives.

Today, after twenty years, GardenShare still believes that the pleasure of eating delicious, wholesome food belongs to all of us and all of us deserve a place at the table. I’m gratified to know that, with energetic leadership and loyal supporters, GardenShare is still dedicated to ending hunger and strengthening food security in the North Country.