Friday, December 25, 2009

Plant-A-Row for the Hungry collects 37,765 Pounds of Food

It was a wet, unusually difficult growing season, but the farmers and gardeners of York County managed a record contribution of 37,765 pounds of fresh nutritious vegetables (and 4 1/3 gallons of apple cider) to the Plant-A-Row for the Hungry (PAR) program to benefit hunger relief agencies throughout the county. York County leads the Maine effort of the program, which began in Alaska and now operates nationwide.
The program, administered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, with the efforts of Master Gardener Volunteers, ended the season last week with the delivery of over 1,000 pounds of winter squash to the York County Shelter by master gardener volunteers working with the Ben Grant Farm of Saco.
The Spiller Farm of Wells, operated by Bill and Anna Spiller, a major contributor to the program since its local inception nine years ago, is featured in the November/December 2009 issue of Yankee Magazine, and on Yankee’s streaming video at Again this year, the Spillers worked with two teams of master gardener volunteers to contribute nearly one-third of the York County PAR total.
Frosty nights ended the apple harvest by master gardeners at Smith’s Farm in Acton and the MacDougall Orchards in Springvale, but not before nearly 10,000 pounds of apples were picked and delivered to the York County Shelter programs and the Sanford Food Pantry.
At Zach’s Farm Stand in York, volunteers from local food pantries and master gardener volunteers faithfully collected the unsold produce at the end of each day of operation to distribute nearly 2,500 pounds of ‘picked in the morning’ vegetables to various area agencies. John Zacharias also generously supported the efforts of the Coastal Clovers 4-H Club by donating land space and support for the 4-Hers to grow almost 4,000 pounds of vegetables to share with local food pantries.
Berry Best Farm, operated by John and Chris Bozak, continued a Labor Day tradition they began two years ago, and opened their blueberry patches to volunteers, allowing them to pick one quart for themselves and one for the food pantries. Open picking resulted in a contribution of nearly 115 pounds of the precious fruit to hunger relief agencies.
Other contributing commercial farms include Harris Farm of Dayton, Riverside Farm of North Berwick, the Rick Grant Farm of Saco, and the Tibbetts Family Farm of Waterboro. A number of individual gardeners also participated in the program by sharing their excess produce with their local food pantries.
Joan Sylvester of York County shelter notes the importance of so much fresh local produce being donated at a time when government commodities are increasingly scarce and the number of needy people facing food shortages is on the increase. Sylvester notes that produce from Plant a Row for the Hungry makes up to more than 80% of what they are able to give out to those who need it in food baskets,
Frank Wertheim, of University of Maine Cooperative Extension, notes that the work of the Master Gardener Volunteers has been incredible in making this happen and especially appreciates the efforts of Zelda Kenney who has led the volunteer effort and whose tireless work has helped our program to expand.
Photo caption: The Plant-A-Row for the Hungry program collected nearly 10,000 pounds of apples this year. (Courtesy photo)

Connor Submits Bill to Examine Education Commissioner’s Rule-making Authority

State Rep. Gary Connor, D-Kennebunk, has submitted legislation to examine the state Education Commissioner’s rule-making authority, following the Education Department’s decision last week to cut the state’s special education funding.
Connor, who represents Arundel, Dayton and parts of Lyman and Kennebunk, said he submitted the legislation in response to Commissioner Susan Gendron’s recently proposed rule changes that will have the effect of reducing Maine’s special education funding to local schools throughout Maine.
“Reducing special education funding to minimal standards simply won’t provide special needs students with adequate care and education,” said Connor. “Twice, over the last several years, the Legislature has decided that the state should allow local schools control when it comes to special education spending. I am concerned that Commissioner Gendron’s rule changes are not reflective of the Legislature’s intent and could significantly impact our children’s future.”
“Over the next several months, the Legislature will have to make many painful decisions as it deals with a budget hole of nearly $400 million,” said Connor, who serves on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “But these decisions should be made by the Legislature, in concert with government departments, not solely by those departments through emergency rule-making.”
Connor’s bill is currently being drafted and, if accepted by the Legislative Council, which is made up of Legislative leadership, will be taken up by the Legislature during the coming session.