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40 Days of SNAP: Gardening on SNAP

Herman garden 1

Broccoli from the Herman family garden, and an orange from a neighbor's tree. (Photo courtesy of the Herman family)

The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog.

By Ivan Herman

Week two was a bit tight.  The kids were out of school for President’s Week, so instead of receiving “free lunch,” their lunches had to be covered by our SNAP budget.  Additionally, my parents were visiting from North Carolina and participating with us on the Food Stamp Challenge.  While we added $1.10 per person, per meal during their visit, there were a number of moments when I could tell that Grandpop was going through pie and cookie withdrawal.  With the exception of an ice cream splurge by Grandpop for the kids (I admit—we all enjoyed it) that he proclaimed was an “even families on SNAP sometimes get treats from grandparents” moment, we did pretty well in sticking to the budget.

Toward the end of the month, though, we started to feel the pinch.  Thank goodness for the backyard.  We have a neighbor with a lemon and two orange trees that overhang our fence by a few feet.  The Meyer lemons and navel oranges added some variety to a couple of days that started looking carbohydrate-heavy with rice and flour from the pantry.  A family from church who live down the street brought over some of the oranges off their backyard tree, too.

I’m also harvesting some broccoli from our garden. It ain’t necessarily pretty, but it is edible. SNAP benefits do allow for the purchase of seeds. With a little patience, some educational resources, a bit of a green thumb, and some access to land or a community garden, it’s possible to grow food at low cost.

But such a combination for many people is often difficult to come by, particularly in urban areas.

Backyard gardens are not a solution to hunger for most people. Not only does it take additional time, effort, and acreage many don’t have, there is also no guarantee of success, and efforts to improve backyard yield often cost more than the food itself would. My Dad tells a tale of deer devastating his tomato garden, so the one lonely tomato he harvested cost him more than $200.  (For a similar tale of the cost-ineffectiveness of home gardening, listen to last year’s Freakonomics podcast, The Tale of the $15 Tomato.)

There are some organizations that provide food solutions that come from gardens. Soil Born Farms, an urban farming initiative aims to educate urban dwellers about growing food.  They also organize Harvest Sacramento, a movement to harvest fruits from neighborhood trees that could otherwise go to waste.  More than 53,000 pounds of fruit was harvested and donated out of back yards in Sacramento in 2012 through this program.

Food assistance organizations like food closets and food pantries sometimes gladly accept fresh backyard produce to distribute to those in need.  They can’t often receive fresh produce through food banks, and grocery stores often have policies to prevent them from donating expired, but still good produce. Websites like AmpleHarvest.org catalog the places where you can take all those eggplants and zucchinis that overrun your backyard garden in the summer so that others may enjoy the fruits of your labors.  Other organizations like Senior Gleaners, Society of Saint Andrew, and Gleanings for the Hungry accept surplus or unsold produce from farmers and farm stands and put it to good use to feed the hungry in this country and around the world.  Look for organizations like these in your neck of the woods.

Ivan Herman is associate pastor at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.

 

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Comments

I admire your journey here and hope it goes well! For those of your readers who might need to follow this budget full time, let me also suggest that they look for community gardens in their town. My daughter participates in hers and when a member isn't home (she travels for instance) or they just have an overabundance, they harvest and take their surplus to the local food pantry after all the people who volunteer and work the garden have their shot at the produce.

I'm also building a greenhouse dome that will give me almost a whole other growing season, so my backyard yield will count for more (pics to come). So even if it doesn't cover all the food needed, a garden can help a lot.

Ben

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