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Garden-Variety Giving: How One Mom's Garden Feeds a Community

The first time she tried growing vegetables, Amy Grey ended up with way too much lettuce. A trip to the food bank to donate the surplus led to a program that's feeding families in need.
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Surveying her backyard in Moscow, Idaho, Amy Grey feels a rush of satisfaction. Raspberries and strawberries are ready for picking, pole beans and plump tomatoes ripen on trellises, and there's row after row of carrots, squash, spinach, pumpkins, and more. Her plantings yield more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce annually—not bad for someone who was all thumbs, none of them green, when she started gardening a few years ago. "I grew up playing in the alleys of Chicago and pretty much have always lived in cities," she says. "Until I moved to Idaho, I'd never grown anything in my life."

These days Amy, a 41-year-old freelance graphic designer, is reaping record crops for Backyard Harvest, the innovative program she founded in 2006 to feed the hungry. Every May to October, Amy and other hardworking volunteers plant, pick, and deliver some 20,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to food banks in Moscow and nearby Lewiston, as well as in Washington State. The project has been so successful that two branches recently sprouted in California. "We've found a way to help others—and it's right outside our doors," she says. "With all our baskets and bushels of homegrown produce we're contributing to the health and well-being of thousands of people by tapping into a spirit of self-reliance and living off the land. And we're creating a more tightly knit community in the bargain."