Many Whitehorse gardeners are planning to grow an extra row of vegetables to donate to the food bank this year. Whitehorse is one of the 35 communities across the country that now participates in Grow-A-Row.

The program is the brainchild of two green thumbs in Winnipeg, Ron and Eunice O’Donovan. In the summer of 1986 the O’Donovans produced more potatoes in their backyard garden than they could consume, so they decided to donate the surplus to the local food bank. Word about the generous growers spread quickly and it soon became an annual practice to plant an extra row of vegetables.

Since that first summer, more than 1.4 million pounds of produce have been given to the Winnipeg Harvest through the Grow-A-Row program.

Now in its fourth year in Whitehorse, participation in the program has been steadily increasing.

“Each year more and more people are taking part,” says Stephen Dunbar-Edge, executive director of the Whitehorse Food Bank. “We process hundreds of pounds of garden fresh vegetables, and we’re open for more.”

Local gardeners plant an extra row of vegetables and bring the fresh produce into the food bank. It is then sorted and tallied and clients of the food bank can check off items they wish to receive.

“We want anything that can be grown and be eaten,” says Dunbar-Edge. “Even at the highest volumes, we never throw anything out.”

The program is a partnership between the food bank and Yukon Heath Services. Kim Neufeld, the dietitian with the program, says the growth can be attributed to tangible results.

“It gives people that extra reason to garden,” she says. “They know it’s going to benefit others.”

Health Services evaluated Grow-A-Row in 2011 and the findings were encouraging. In August of 2011, 200 hampers containing fresh produce were given out, which fed approximately 460 people, Neufeld says. That month, the program provided 3,000 servings of fresh vegetables.

“It really is significant,” she says. “It’s a great resource for the community.”

Kathryn MacDonald, the Whitehorse Community Garden coordinator with The Downtown Urban Gardeners Society (DUGS), agrees. Once a week throughout the harvest season Macdonald and others comb over the plots and collect produce to bring to the food bank.

“Sometimes people get eager early in the season and plant too much,” she says. “And then when it actually grows they realize they can’t consume all that food. So we collect it, weigh it all, sort it and drop it off.”

The community garden aims to donate 500 pounds of produce each season, and while they haven’t hit it yet (they’re usually around the 400 pound mark), it’s great incentive to get digging and planting.

“It’s pretty exciting when you can take 30 pounds of kale into the food bank,” laughs Macdonald. “At least for me.”

The vegetables that are grown in the community garden are also organic.

“They’re 10 times better than anything you can buy at the grocery store,” says MacDonald. “Almost everyone is giving to it,” she adds. “It’s better to give to the food bank and let someone have the opportunity to take it then to have it go to waste.”

When she goes into the food bank every Thursday morning to drop off the produce, Macdonald sees the benefit of the program first hand.

“There are regulars there and they see me coming in with the vegetables and they’re always excited,” she says.

Extra Foods also donates plastic bags to DUGS so they can package the food before dropping it off.

“Any gardeners can come out and participate,” says MacDonald. “People always enjoy doing it and it really does build a sense of community.”

For more information on Grow-A-Row visit the Whitehorse Food Bank at 306 Alexander Street, or give them a call at 393-2265.