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

An Unexpected Community Garden

As Amy likes to tell it, Backyard Harvest started serendipitously. She and her husband, Mark, moved to Moscow from Cincinnati in 1998 when he was offered a position to teach archaeology at the University of Idaho. After sons Tom and Sam were born, the family bought a 1948 clapboard house on three-quarters of an acre with views of the fertile, rolling hills known as the Palouse. "During our first spring there in 2005, I decided that having a garden would be fun for all of us," Amy recalls. "But I was a total novice, so I let the boys plant the whole packet of seeds, and we ended up with 200 heads of lettuce. We had friends, but we didn't have that many friends."

She contacted the Moscow Food Bank and asked if they'd accept fresh produce. "They said yes, and it turned out people really wanted it, because the lettuce was gone in a flash," says Amy. "I remember thinking how ironic it was that Idaho is one of the greatest agricultural states in the nation, but people had been leaving the food bank without a single apple or bunch of carrots. It got me thinking that there must be a way to get wholesome food onto people's tables."

Amy began planting as much as her backyard could grow and enlisted neighbors to do the same, telling them she'd cart the bounty herself to the food bank. Some people had fruit trees, so Amy soon added apples, pears, apricots, plums, and cherries to the haul. She also did a little research and learned that Moscow and Lewiston have a high percentage of seniors on limited incomes, and that 14 percent of area households face some degree of food insecurity, a number that exceeds the national average. "I wanted not only to turn this project into a nonprofit but also to set up a corps of 'garden mentors' to teach people how to grow food and can it themselves," Amy says. "I remember being fascinated as a child when my mom told me stories about my great-grandmother making preserves. This charity was in me all along."