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 Increase Your Sales and FEED THE HUNGRY

 

BY BRUCE ZIMMERMAN

Yes, you can improve your bottom line and support those in need in your community. It is not difficult.

There are two things every community has in common gardeners and families in need. The Plant a Row-Grow a Row Program is designed to bring these two groups together through the local food bank and soup kitchens. 

The Plant A Row-Grow a Row Program simply asks that all gardeners grow an extra plant or row of fruit or vegetables. Even a novice balcony gardener can grow an extra container of Herbs, Tomatoes or Peppers. You sell them the container, soil mix and plants. 

The home gardener need not increase the size of their garden as many gardens produce more produce than the family needs. I do not know how many times have I heard from gardeners “I have to many Zucchini, Squash, Eggplant or Tomatoes.” Some gardeners realizing that increasing the plant density or putting in an extra row does not entail that much more care. You sell them the extra seed, plants, soil amendments and fertilizer.  

Many home gardeners have fruit trees in their garden that produce large volumes of fruit that the family can no longer handle or need. These Fruits in particular Pears, Peaches, Plums and Apples are in great demand by food banks and soup kitchens. The Fruit must be ripe, clean and in good condition. You sell them the fruit tree care products.

 Signage is the key to success. Use the logo on all signs. Place them as a reminder on the products you are promoting that relate to seeding, growing, watering and fertilizing their crops. Then place the logo on the corner of all signs but in particular on the sale signs throughout the retail outlet. As corny as it sounds try “ask me buttons” for all the staff. In all print and radio advertisements use the logo.

Susan Antler of the Compost Council of Canada who administers the Plant a Row-Grow a Row Program (PAR-GAR) understands the need for you to reach out to the public. Susan with the financial support of Scotts Canada Ltd. has produced PAR-GAR brochures to explain the program. When your company reaches out to the public through the media about PAR-GAR Susan can also provide you with press releases and Public Service Announcements geared to the print, radio and television media. In the coming year the PAR-GAR program will have a training video available to you. 

Many Retail Outlets have display gardens. One of these could be a vegetable garden signed as a Plant a Row-Grow a Row garden. All its production would be sent to the local bank.

Staff training and commitment are important. It is easy to get the staff to learn the program. Here again the brochures and video will be of a great help to you to inspire and maintain the commitment of your staff and the public.

To be successful you must lead the way. To do so entails a mental commitment that the need exists. This is the resistance that we encountered in St. Catharines. The public did not realize that the need was found among the working families and that so many of their community members were in need.

By 2004 the efforts of gardeners across Canada have yielded more than one million pounds of fresh produce donations. At that time Charles Seiden, Executive Director, Canadian Association of Food Banks stated that “We are very hopeful that gardeners will enjoy a bumper crop in their vegetable gardens again this year and that there will be some extras for our food banks” He went on to say “These donations help provide an extra boost of nutrition for the folks that we serve.” 

In St. Catharines the Plant a Row-Grow a Row committee reaches out to the community with Harvest Day. The first Saturday in September after the children go back to school is Harvest Day.

The City has put up for the past month banners sponsored by St. Catharines Horticultural Society, Bruce Zimmerman’s Open line Garden Show, Meridian Credit Union, and Healthy Living Niagara. They are placed over four major through fares across the city. On Harvest Day StarBucks provides free coffee. I do my Garden Show from the location and interview the Mayor and/or other councilors who come to participate in Harvest Day. We ask that people drop off their extra produce or store purchased produce in the morning. Later on we distribute the produce to those in need with the help of the Food Bank volunteers. Even if we do not distribute all the proceeds on the day they are all given to those in need the next business day. Every year we receive more donations and very year it is never enough. Marcy Heit, Operations Manager for the St Catharines and Thorold Community Care (Food Bank) stated that  “ the need for produce isn’t new and it continues to grow.” Last year Harvest Day almost doubled the number of people interested in getting the donated produce. The number of people who came to get some produce out numbered donations by almost four to one.

Your Company could sponsor the banners, a breakfast fundraiser, or signage to direct people to the donation location. As part of your advertising budget you could allow for both print and radio advertisements promoting Harvest Day. Remember all these sponsorships should be tied into your company. 

Marcy Heit also told me about how the Agricultural Industry is supporting the local Food Banks. She revealed that there are two men who are known as “The Apple Man” and “The Cucumber Man” They phone her up with an excessive amount of their respective produce. The Community Care Food Bank then distributes this produce with their clients and shares their extra with other Food Banks. Another advance notice Marcy gets is from Mike Eckhart at the Vineland Growers Cooperative. They provide in season fruit to be preserved by Food Bank clients. On Fridays these clients’ preserve or make jam that they take home or are distributed to other clients. On Savory Thursdays clients are allowed to sample prepared food using what foods are available. If they like it they go home with all the ingredients to make it. With all this support there is still a great need. This is why we need to get the support of millions of Canada’s home gardeners to grow an extra row.

Your advertising is always focused on the people 35 to 65 with a disposable income and a need to relieve the stresses of their daily life. Joyce Brown a faithful listener to my Open Line Garden Show follows the goals of the PAR-GAR program. As a very busy person she has a garden plot at the Toronto Chinese Lutheran Church in Agincourt and contributes produce to the Agincourt Community Services Association. Joyce said that there are other garden plots there that contribute to the Food Bank. Last year she said, “ the garden contributed over 300 pounds of produce to the Food Bank.” Gardening is one of the best outlets for relieving stress and combined with doing a good deed for others makes your customer receptive to the Plant a Row-Grow a Row program. For you it is simply a matter of educating your customer and the general public that you and they can make a difference in your community. All of the Horticultural Trades and the communities they live and work in can benefit by participation in the Plant a Row-Grow a Row program. 

For help and guidance in championing the Plant a Row-Grow a Row program contact:

Susan Antler, PAR-GAR Program Supporter

The Compost Council of Canada

16 Northumberland Street

Toronto, ON M6H 1P7

1-877-571-GROW (4769)

Fax 416-536-9892

santler@compost.org 

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