Growing Vegetable Starts for Food Banks

Generate Interest- If planning to grow starts for a food bank first check in with the managers to see what the interest level is for the food bank receiving the plants. Will the plants be given out to clients on a normal food distribution day? Are they being received to plant in a food bank garden? If this is a new concept for the food bank, explain the value in generating curiosity among healthier food choices. Explain how giving clients the chance to grow their own small vegetable plant provides the opportunity for them to participate in an engaging activity related to healthier eating options. Explain that this small gesture could inspire a new gardener that could return later with their own homegrown produce to donate to the food bank!


Seeds- Advertise that your program is accepting seed donations. Explain that the seeds will be used to grow starts for food bank distribution and that last season's seeds are acceptable. If you are only interested in growing specific varieties make that clear. Go to a retail store and ask them what they do with leftover seed packets from last season. Most stores have extras and once the germination date has expired they are no longer allowed to sell them. Seeds that are past there expiration dates by 1-2 years are fine, some varieties last even much longer!


Potting Soil/Trays- Look to see how other gardening organizations get their hands on soil within your area. Some retail stores may be interested in providing donations especially in exchange for advertisement. Ask local farmers and gardeners if they have a surplus of dirt. Growing your starts in a mixture of soil and compost may help cut costs or stretch/reinforce your supply. Plastic trays are fairly cheap and can be reused again and again. Paper egg cartons/paper cups can work in a pinch.


Greenhouse Space/Watering- Seek out any local farmers, community gardens or school gardens that may be already growing their own starts for the season. See if they would be willing to share some space for your project. Offering to share with watering responsibilities (you will help water your hosts starts a few days a week) as an incentive. This is a great way to include the community with your project.


Planting Volunteers- Recruit volunteers to help with planting! Depending on the scale of your project have 1 big planting day or stagger a few throughout the growing season. This is a great early season project to engage volunteers with before the harvesting/gleaning season begins. Have volunteers label what they planted and in which tray.


Understand what you are growing- Pay attention to the timing of your plantings. Try your best to set clients up with season appropriate varieties of vegetables and herbs. Give out “grow and eat” cards to educate clients on the plants they are receiving from both a gardening and cooking perspective! Check out sample cards for Kohlrabi below. 


Front of card

Back of card

Project Harvest is a first year gleaning program at Volunteers of America Western Washington, providing local produce to the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition. Volunteers of America Western Washington is the home of the Snohomish County Distribution Center, a centralized warehouse which distributes food to the 20 partners of the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition before it is given to families and individuals in need.

In the first year of program development, Project Harvest worked in collaboration with RFH, VOAWW, and the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition to develop new relationships with local farms and create volunteer gleaning opportunities. The first year of the program was focused on spreading awareness of the program’s mission, building partnerships, developing gleaning best practices, and hosting gleaning events to supply Snohomish County food banks with more farm fresh produce. Within the first year of the program many volunteers jumped on the opportunity to harvest produce on local commercial farms, the local Port of Everett Farmers market, and backyard fruit trees! 

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