Towards the end of the growing season (October in Pacific NW), start visiting local stores and writing lettersto seed companies asking for donations of last year’s seed. It helps to include your Employer Identification Number (EIN) in your letter to prove your organization’s non-profit status and to allow the donor to deduct donations from their taxes.
Repack the seeds into smaller packets with your program’s info on it.
Determine your target growers, and then find a natural partner to help you distribute seeds to reach those individuals. The PCGP targeted practiced gardeners, which are a diverse group of people.
Because the EFN executive director has a connection with the leadership of the county library system, and because it covers the whole county geographically, the PCGP opted to distribute its repackaged seeds at the 17 branches of the county library system in the spring. To do this, the gleaning coordinator brought 17 beautified coffee cans full of seed packets and the PCGP brochure for distribution.
For seeds that need to be started early in the spring and transplanted, such as broccoli, onions, and tomatoes, the PCGP coordinator sought partners with greenhouses to start those seeds so they could be distributed at springtime events.
Partners included two high schools, three farms, and Tacoma’s biosolids treatment plant. The PCGP gleaning coordinator and Jesuit Volunteer organized volunteers to seed the plants in mid-late February at the high schools and the biosolids plant, while the farms graciously planted extra trays of the plants they normally grow.
Seeding entails filling seed starting trays with moist planting soil mix, putting 1+ seeds on each cell of the seed starting tray, lightly watering the seeds in, and leaving the tray in a greenhouse to germinate. Volunteers at each site were responsible for watering and caring for the plants until maturity in late April.
To maximize publicity, find a big event to distribute the bulk of your plants at. Most PCGP starts went out at the Community Garden Summit organized by the community garden coordinator in late April. At the end of the half-day Summit, attended by the mayor and consisting of gardening workshops, gardeners were invited to take plants and encouraged to grow them for their nearest food bank.
To promote this idea, the PCGP coordinator and Jesuit Volunteer handed out lists of Where to Donate to gardeners on their way out. While nearly 150 gardeners took plants home, there were several trays of veggie starts left at the end of the day.
Distribute remaining plants. Leftover plants were kept at one of the high schools until they could be planted in community garden food bank plots on a volunteer day scheduled during national AmeriCorps week. The few remaining trays were distributed to clients at St. Leo’s.
Recordkeeping for such a decentralized project is difficult. Depending on the community, tracking can be done by the gardener or the food bank, and the records can be kept in the form of donation receipts or in a log.
Second Harvest in Spokane has great success tracking every single garden donation with its receipts, and Lettuce Link in Seattle works with the organized “P-Patch” gardeners, who track the donations in a log at each garden. The PCGP has started tracking monthly garden donations in logs at two food bank organizations, who cover a wide geographic area of the county and distribute 33% of the food given out by Pierce County’s 67 food banks.