Grow Dinner, Right in Your Backyard
Photo by Flickr user Southern Foodways Alliance
Many folks don’t know that recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) can use their benefits to purchase seeds and plant gardens at home. And while this can take some time and effort, the benefits far outweigh the cost, says Holly Hirschberg, founder of The Dinner Garden in San Antonio, TX, which sends people packets of seeds for free. Begun in 2008 at the height of the recession, The Dinner Garden receives thousands of requests for seeds daily from people all over the country who are struggling to make ends meet and feed their families. I spoke with Hirschberg last week to learn more about the inspiration and day-to-day operations of the Dinner Garden.
How did you start Dinner Garden?
I started the dinner garden in 2008 during the beginning of the recession. My husband lost his job and the first thing I did was plant a garden for my family. I thought that’s one last thing I’d have to worry about.
During this time, I learned that there are so many people who needed food. People who would donate food to food banks now needed the food instead of being a donor. Gas prices were $5 a gallon and people didn’t have gas money to get to the food bank, even if there was food available.
So I thought I would send seeds directly to someone’s house and they wouldn’t need gas money to pick them up and they could have a little more control about how they fed their family and take care of their family in a way that brought dignity and honor.
Where do you get funding for the Dinner Garden?
We started in the summer 2008 and started giving out seeds by January 2009. I told people about my idea and asked for donations from my friends. We bought some seeds and we had some postage money. I knew people in Michigan were having trouble so I put an ad in Craigslist asking people if they wanted any seeds. I had to take it down after a half hour because we had gotten 80 requests.
The requests were so heartfelt -- people were saying, “We’re desperate. There’s no work in Michigan.”
We sent out seeds until we ran out of postage.
What kinds of seeds to you send to your recipients?
We send out between 10 and 12 varieties. We include things that people recognize, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and then we throw in stuff people haven’t seen before. We try to make people into lifelong gardeners, and we are also trying to help people expand their diet and be healthier, and that comes from being exposed to new things.
How did you find out that SNAP recipients can use their benefits to purchase seeds?
It seemed like a lot of our clients were on food stamps, so we thought it would be great to let people know and we have the means to get that information to the people who are going to use it.
And while working people might think they don’t have time to garden, I believe gardening has evolved with a lot of innovation that don’t require you to do what you used to have to do. Seeds are going to grow. Put them in the ground at the right time with sun, water, and soil and they are going to grow.
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