SNAP Challenge: Part 3

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SNAP Challenge: Part 3

The shopping is done, the company is gone, and so a week of eating on $4.50 a person per day has begun.  If we don’t have what we need to make it 5 days straight then we’re not going to have it. The money is all spent.  Well, almost. I still have about $5 left.  Not enough to go out to eat but if we need to we can make one more trip to the store…probably for snacks.

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at She's taking Feeding America's SNAP Challenge as part of Hunger Action Month. This is the 3rd post in the series.

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at She’s taking Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge as part of Hunger Action Month. This is the 3rd post in the series.

Round two of grocery shopping was illuminating.  This time the store was packed. The lines at the check out were so long that folks who were still shopping couldn’t get through the front of the store for all of the cart traffic. I waited for a long time. A woman two carts in front of me was checking out and it seemed to be taking forever. I think she must have grabbed everything she wanted to buy and was having the cashier total it for her as she went so she wouldn’t go over a set amount. There was a lot of back and forth, “no, take that off, try this” and so on.  I was getting impatient. I found myself getting irritated with the woman. Why couldn’t she just figure this out beforehand? But, I’ve never had to do that–really worry about going over budget at the checkout.

After shopping for this challenge I can imagine how hard it might be. Several items on my list weren’t clearly priced.  I couldn’t find ONE scale in the produce section to weigh my items to figure out how much they were going to cost.  There were special bargain tags on a few items, but I wasn’t sure if they were still applicable. Even though I tried my best to calculate the total as I dropped things in the basket, I still wasn’t sure how much it would be until the cashier finished ringing it up.  In my case, however, if I went over it was no big deal. Maybe I won’t use it for the SNAP Challenge, but I’ll eat it later.


It was hard to figure out the prices of things I wanted to buy. The shelves were all mixed up and the tags were confusing making it hard to figure out what I could afford.

I could tell the woman was embarrassed and she probably felt the collective impatience of all of us bearing down on her.  I wonder if she could tell that most everyone in line, including me, was kind of judging her every move. I found myself telling her (in my head) not to go for that pricey pre-packaged, individual-servings item. It wasn’t healthy and it cost way too much for what it was. I was totally judging her and feeling superior for all that I was getting with my remaining $40 or so. What is wrong with me? Why was I being such a jerk?  It’s easy to stand aside and criticize others for their food choices, but think about all that she was going up against.

She was probably trying to get something she knew her kids would like (I know how hard it is to find a balance with little hungry monsters). She probably wanted something that didn’t take a lot of time and effort to cook or prepare; something that seemed inexpensive; something that seemed healthy. The advertisements on the packaging sure made it seem like it was the greatest single food item in all the world.  It would be filling, and it wouldn’t go bad. That’s the best that I could say for it.  Unfortunately, such is life for many families relying on SNAP benefits. Buying fresh is not an easy choice, nor is it often the most economical when you just don’t want your family to feel hungry.


This is everything I got with my total budget of $67.50. SNAP benefits equal about $4.50 a person per day, and we’re taking the challenge for 5 days.

My plan was to finish the shopping then use my extra cash at the farmers market. Well, it turns out I didn’t really have much extra cash. And, unfortunately, there was not much at the farmers’ market that would have been cheaper than the store. So most of my fresh produce for the week came from the grocery. I bought that bag of carrots for 79 cents, some broccoli for $2.49, a bag of apples for $3.49, a bunch of kale for 99 cents, 6 bananas for $1.23, one onion for $1.03, one garlic for 29 cents, and a bag of grapes for $4.58. I did save $2.50 of my money to buy big bag of salad greens at the farmers’ market. (They are usually $5, but if these were real SNAP dollars, they would be doubled.) The bag is equivalent to about two of the plastic boxes of salad greens that you buy at the store so this was a pretty great deal. We’ll be having salad with dinner, hallelujah!


Here’s a bunch of tomatoes and eggplants from my garden that I’m going to be using this week. SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds and seedlings if they are sold by a SNAP retailer. One packet of seeds can go a long way…if you have the space, the time, the water, sun, soil, and patience. It’s not going to be a solution for everyone but it’s a great resource that most people don’t know about.

These fresh food items are nice to have, and the double value SNAP coupons for the farmers’ market are awesome, but the most amazing deal of all is a packet of seeds. Several months ago I spent one dollar on a packet of tomato seeds. Using only a small portion of the seeds in that packet, I grew about 8 tomato plants which have provided us with lots of tomatoes for salads, sandwiches, and sauces.  It is a little known fact that SNAP dollars can be used to purchase seeds and seedlings if they are sold at a SNAP retailer. Seed packs at the Kroger where I shop were $1 so, I’m deducting that from my total SNAP budget, and I’m going to eat a lot of tomatoes this week as part of the challenge.


Grilled cheese, salad, and tomato soup for dinner. That is a sad looking salad.

Now to the eating (usually my favorite part).  We had tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches and a small, plain salad for dinner.  Breakfast was a very bland bowl of oatmeal with raisins. I can tell already that this is going to take some getting used to. I’m not a big fan of salads in the first place so I like to dress them up with nuts, cheese, vegetables, and lots of dressing. (Dang it I forgot to buy dressing!).  One day in and I’ve already used some items that are off limits–oil and vinegar for the salad, and honey for the oatmeal. All three of these seemingly innocent condiments would have eaten up a big chunk of my budget. Can we just pretend that I bought them last month with my SNAP dollars? Don’t judge me. Plain oatmeal is gross.


At least I had coffee!

Next time on the blog, hear from my four-year-old snack-monster about what he thinks of this whole idea. Here’s a hint: he does not like it.

SNAP Challenge: Part 2

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SNAP Challenge: Part 2

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at

Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at

Ok, we still haven’t started. I guess I don’t feel ready. How ridiculous is that? I’m still not “ready” to feed my family on $4.50 a day per person. For real people this isn’t a game and it’s not a choice. I realize how privileged I sound, but I want to take this seriously and there is too much food in my fridge. One of the rules of the SNAP Challenge is that you can’t eat food that you already have and we have a lot. So, the truth is, we haven’t started the challenge yet because we have TOO MUCH FOOD.  That’s messed up. Another problem is that my parents are coming for a visit this weekend and, well, SNAP benefits don’t increase when you have company or when it’s your kid’s birthday. You just have to make it work. But, we’re not going there this time.

However, I did go to the store to do some initial shopping for when we do get started on Monday. I was worried about the food going bad before we were ready to start eating it and then I realized that nearly everything on my shopping list was non-perishable.  And, there it is folks. When you’re eating on $4.50 a day per person–or the average amount of SNAP benefits–you aren’t going to get a lot of fresh food.  It’s just that simple. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality faced by millions of Americans who rely on these benefits to feed their families.  This is why is so important! More on that later…

SNAP4pic Normally, when I go the store I walk straight to the produce section.  Out of habit I did that again and realized there was nothing there that I was going to be able to get today. That made me sad.  I did check out the prices to see what items seemed to be the most food for the least amount of money.  The large heads of lettuce and cabbage were big, and cheap. A one pound bag of whole carrots was only 79 cents. Duly noted.

I strolled through the “natural” and “organic” section and saw the free-range eggs we usually buy with their big fat price tag, and gasped at the almost $4 organic yogurt that is a staple at our house. I was in the wrong place. I stood in the middle of an aisle like a big dummy just trying to get my bearings.

While I stood there a commercial came on the store-wide speaker. It was an announcement about September being Hunger Action Month, I KID YOU NOT! “1 in 6 Americans is food insecure” it said, and this was the month to take action to help our neighbors in need.  I was pleased to hear it and hope others did as well, but the timing was kind of freaky.


Here’s what my cart looked like at checkout.

This was sort of a test run for me–a chance to do some research on the price of food–and I ended up only buying about half of what we need.  I got a big bag of rice ($1), a bag of dried beans ($2.19), several cans of condensed soup (2 for $3), several cans of tuna (.89 each), spaghetti ($1 a box), a big can of oatmeal ($1.57), a huge block of cheddar cheese for sandwiches and snacks ($3.49), a loaf of generic sliced whole-wheat sandwich bread ($1.25), and one box of granola bars for my little snack king which cost $2.19 for a box of 5.  At the check out I saved $2.40 for using the store’s free rewards card, and I ended up paying $26.52 total.  Not too bad. I’ve still got to get eggs, stuff to make sandwiches, side items for my son’s lunches, snacks, and fresh produce. I’ll finish it up this weekend and we’ll really start Monday.

You may have noticed a few things missing from my list and cart. The big one? Meat. We don’t eat meat at my house, except for the occasional filet of fish/can of tuna/fish sticks. That has helped keep the price down. We’re also not planning to drink anything but the delicious Memphis water straight from the tap, and milk. If there is any way on God’s green earth that we can afford coffee, we might just survive this. Y’all cross your fingers.


SNAP Challenge: Getting Started

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SNAP Challenge: Getting Started

For Hunger Action Month, my family and I are taking Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge. We’re going to try to experience what it’s like to eat on just $4.50 a day per person like many of our fellow citizens who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to feed their families.  We’re using this as an opportunity to teach our son (and ourselves) about hunger in America, to help him (and ourselves) remember how fortunate we are to have so much, and to renew our commitment to helping our neighbors in need.

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This is my son and a giant pancake. Which he ate. All by himself.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve agonized about this.  We have a 4 year old son who can clean out a fridge and pantry faster than any grown man. I mean, I was warned about teenage boys and how much they will eat, but I was hoping we had a good 10 years or so before that was going to happen. No, my active (some say “wild”), healthy, and fit 4 year old boy eats constantly.  He will eat his entire dinner, and 10 minutes later he’ll want a snack. By bedtime he’s hungry again. After all the books, and the tucking in, and all the stalling tactics, he hollers out to us that he needs “bed food”.  Yes, this is a new category of snacks that are just consumed in bed. With a four year old food-vacuum like my son in the house, you can understand why I’m nervous. How in the world could we possibly keep him full on $4.50 a day? Since we try to give him healthy, low-sugar, and organic snacks (when we can), we’d use up $4.50 before his “second breakfast”.  This is going to be tough.

The first thing I did to get this challenge started was to sit down and figure out the rules.  We are a family of four, but one of us is only a baby and is completely breastfed, so really we’re only talking about feeding three. SNAP benefits are equal to about $4.50 per person per day.  So that’s $13.50 we can spend each day to cover three meals for three people. And snacks. We’re going to need snacks.

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 11.52.55 AMThanks to Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program, SNAP dollars are doubled at my local farmer’s market.  Though it’s not part of the official SNAP challenge rules, I’m going to take advantage of this program, and integrate it into my challenge.  I will use whatever money is left after the grocery store (if there is any), and I’m going to double it myself and head to the farmers market. I hope I can get some fresh food to plug in the gaps in my menu. More on this in my next post.

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 11.49.54 AMI know I can’t just go to the store and hope it works out to be less than $100. I need a plan.  So I sat down and tried to come up with meals that don’t require many ingredients, and that I thought would be inexpensive.  Even though my son is a big eater, he can also be pretty picky so I tried to think of things that I knew he would eat. Nutrition is, of course, a top priority. How can I get enough food and make sure it’s healthy food? This is the real challenge.

So here’s my list. I’m going to head to the store soon and see if it works out. I have NO IDEA how much this is going to cost me, but I’ll have to make my modifications at the store and let you know how it goes.

Breakfast ideas:
cereal and milk
oatmeal and raisins
frozen waffles

canned tuna
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
fried egg sandwiches

Dinner ideas:
Black beans and rice
Spaghetti and marinara sauce
Soup and sandwiches (maybe grilled cheese?)

Dinner sides:
Broccoli (frozen or fresh?)
Steamed carrots (frozen or fresh?)

And snacks–seriously, this is going to be tough.
A bag of clementines
cheese sticks

How does this list took to you? Do you think I can get all of this for less than $100?  Will it be enough for all three of us?  What would you change? Leave a comment for me and stayed tuned to the blog for more updates!

Hunger Action Month: Get Involved

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Jennifer Gilmore is the Executive Director of Feeding America San Diego and a member of the Board of Directors

Hunger Action Month: Get Involved
By Jennifer Gilmore

September is Hunger Action Month, an impactful time when organizations across the nation unite to urge individuals to take action. As community members, businesses and government, everyone has a role to play in solving hunger and getting food to those in need.

There are several ways you can get involved this month.

  • Go orange for hunger-relief. Show your support by wearing orange every Thursday during September.
  • Take action online at Complete awareness-raising tasks to turn your state orange.
  • Call or write your elected officials asking them to support local hunger-relief programs.
  • Take the CalFresh Challenge and live on $4.90 a day. Get a sense of what like is like for those struggling to put food on the table by shopping for your meals with the daily average per person benefit provided by the CalFresh/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. To learn more about the CalFresh Challenge, visit

With Feeding America San Diego’s recent release of the Hunger in America 2014 study, we continue to learn more about the need and how we can best serve those who need help. I ask that you join us in the fight against hunger with your time, food, funds and voice. Together, we can mobilize our communities to create real change this September.




The Reality of Hunger in America

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In August 2014, Feeding America published the results of it’s annual Hunger In America survey. You can read the full report here or watch a short video with the key findings here. The results–which knocked us flat on our faces–set the tone for the beginning of September which is Hunger Action Month.  Hunger Action Month is a nationwide campaign, organized by Feeding America, to mobilize the public to take action on the issue of hunger in America, to get involved, and to solve it. 

Starting in September, is “Going Orange” for Hunger Action Month and will be devoting all of our blog posts to the issue.  We encourage you to join us on this journey by getting involved in your community, and following along with us here on the blog.  Here’s a glimpse of the Hunger in America study’s findings to get you inspired for action:

  • One in seven Americans turns to the Feeding America network for food assistance. That’s 46.5 million people in the U.S., including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.
  • Feeding America client households frequently face difficult decisions in an effort to ensure they have sufficient food. Client households often survive on limited budgets and are confronted with choices between paying for food and paying for other essentials. These dilemmas can put households in the position of choosing between competing necessities. Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 10.40.22 AM

  • In addition to charitable nutrition assistance programs and making spending tradeoffs, many households also engage in a number of other coping strategies in order to feed their families.Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 10.41.56 AM makes it easier for home and community gardeners to address hunger in their communities by connecting them with their local food pantry when they have extra vegetables and fruits to share.  Working together we can increase the amount of fresh and healthy foods that are available at food pantries so that every American has the opportunity to choose healthy foods to feed their family. Be a part of the solution with us today.

Food Pantry Friday

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It’s Food Pantry Friday!  Notice what’s missing in this photo from a recently registered food pantry…Fresh produce! There are nearly 7,000 food pantries listed on – each and every one of them would love to receive and distribute extra produce from your garden to help nourish those in need. Remember that no amount is too small to donate! Please consider donating to a food pantry near you by finding one here:


This week we are welcoming newly registered pantries in the following cities and towns: Garland, TX / Casper, WY / Las Vegas, NV / Colton, CA / Nashport, OH / Clarksville, TN / Rome, GA / Larsen, WI / Savage, MN / New York, NY / Vienna, VA / Silver Spring. MD / Forestville, MD / Fort Washington, MD / Washington, DC / Ormond Beach, FL / Arlington, VA / Kansas City, KS / Westminster, CO / Suitland, MD / Ballwin, MO and Hayti Heights, MO.

Top 5 Food Blog Posts from

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Top 5 Food Blog Posts from

Based on your favorites and ours, we’ve put together at list of the top 5 food blog posts from the blog.  We’ve got gardening tips, food waste and food recovery stories, and since everyone seems to like them so much, we’ve even got some top 10 lists on our list!

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#5. “Here’s Why People Experiencing Homelessness Are Eating a Better Breakfast Than You Are” by John Murphy of Miriam’s Kitchen. One of the nation’s greatest hunger-relief agency respects the dignity of their clients by serving fresh food prepared by highly trained chefs.


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#4. “Top 5 Tips for Reducing Food Waste at Home” by Emily Fulmer of While most of the world’s food waste happens somewhere between the farm and point of sale, each of us can do our part to reduce food waste at home to help stem the flow.


Starting plants from seed provides a greater variety than can be found growing at the garden center


#3. “Starting Plants from Seed” by Joe Lamp’l of Growing a Greener World TV Joe Lamp’l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World, and a member of the Board of Directors


All the pantries registered at

#2. “Top 10 Reasons Why Every Food Pantry Should Be Registered at” by Leanne Mazurick of It may not be as clever as a David Letterman top-ten list, but here’s a top-ten list as to why every food pantry in the United States should be registered on and how YOU can help!

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#1 “Balcony Gardening with a 10 Umbrella Battalion” by Natalia G. You don‘t have to have a lot of space to grow an incredible garden.  This guest blogger shows us how it’s done with a little creativity and a 10 umbrella battalion.



Do you have a favorite blog post that didn’t make the list?  Tell us what YOU like to read and we’ll give you more of that next time on the blog.

Food Pantry Friday

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There are food pantries, there are farmers’ markets, and there are community gardens. For today’s Food Pantry Friday, we’re sharing a story about the amazing things that can happen when all three work together to address the hunger needs of their community.  This is a special guest post from Kelly Renfrow of the Johnston Partnership for a Healthy Community in Johnston, Iowa.


Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 9.28.58 AMFor the past 10 years St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Johnston, Iowa has hosted a community garden on the church property. What started as a space for church members to help grow and enjoy fresh produce for their own families has turned into a project in which all produce grown is donated to the Johnston Partnership for a Healthy Community which operates a local food pantry for those in need.

It is a beautiful sight when church members pull in and begin unloading the fresh produce harvested that week.  Tomatoes, green beans, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and radish are just a few of the colorful vegetables that are plucked from this beautiful space less than a mile from the food pantry.  Clients’ eyes light up when they see the wide selection of fresh vegetables they can select from that would otherwise be out of reach with their limited budgets.  They talk with each other about how to best prepare the bountiful harvest.

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 9.27.07 AMAs the Johnston Partnership recognized the growing demand for fresh vegetables we implemented a program called Market to Pantry.  This is the second year we have asked Johnston Farmers Market vendors to donate extra produce at the end of the weekly market, which runs from May-September. This produce is also distributed through our food pantry and has been very successful. We received a grant this year that has allowed us to distribute coupons for our food pantry clients to “purchase” produce at the Johnston Farmers Market. It has been a win-win for clients and vendors.

Johnston is a thriving suburban community where poverty can sometimes go unnoticed.  Through these programs we are able to provide nutritious food while maintaining our clients dignity. This could not happen without the support of St. Paul and the Johnston Market vendors.

Kelly Renfrow, Board President
Johnston Partnership for a Healthy Community

White House Kitchen Garden Tour

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View of the White House from the garden.

Last weekend I found myself standing in front of the most famous address in the US: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington, D.C.   I didn’t actually go inside, but I was able to see something pretty amazing on the front lawn.  My family and I took a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden.  What an inspiration!

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The White House Garden is L-shaped and consists of about 1,100 square feet of raised beds.

We walked from the East wing, down a long grassy hill, towards the garden. On our stroll we saw the small playground the President set up outside of the Oval Office so he could watch his daughters playing, and we passed a massive tent and stage that was being erected for the opening dinner of the African Leaders Summit. The staff was busy as bees, security was tight, and there we were waltzing across the lawn to go look at some vegetables. It was pretty surreal.

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The garden is beautiful and this was a great time to be visiting because the summer crops were still producing. Though, if we had been there about one week later we probably could have picked some figs from the tree at the edge of the garden.  That tree, like many of the plants in the garden, came from seeds Thomas Jefferson gathered and cultivated at Monticello.  Despite it’s famous genetic history, the fig tree almost didn’t make it. We were told that when it was just a little sapling, barely recognizable as a tree, it disappeared.  Apparently, some volunteers thought it was a weed and pulled it up and tossed it in the compost pile (yes, the White House garden has a compost pile).  When the director of the garden discovered the fig tree in the compost, he plucked it out and put it back in it’s place and it has done well ever since.  Seriously, I want those figs!

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Thomas Jefferson’s Fig Tree

Okay, to be honest, I want the whole garden.  It was beautiful. We walked down stone paths between raised beds spilling over with several kinds of basil, sweet potato vines, eggplants, purple peas, kale, tomatoes, zucchini, and carrots.  There was even a large section panted with the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash—all looking lush and healthy. There are about 55 different types of vegetables and about half of those are heirloom varieties.

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In 2011, along with American Indian and Alaskan Native youth, First Lady Michelle Obama planted the traditional 3 sisters together: corn, beans, and squash. The seeds for the 3 sisters garden were donated by the National Museum of the American Indian.

But, this is not just a vegetable garden.  There were also strawberries and raspberries and the most surprising of all, a papaya tree. I’m no expert, but even I know that papayas don’t normally grow in Washington, D.C.  Turning the corner quickly to go check it out, I saw behind some bushy tomato plants that this large, fruit-bearing papaya tree was in a big pot…not in the ground as I thought at first glance. It spends much of the year in a greenhouse somewhere out of sight but it was outside today in all its glory.

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As we started heading back toward the White House we stopped near a raised bed that was planted specifically for pollinators. We watched some bees go about their business on the flowers, then walked about 20 feet to where they were returning with their pollen.  The White House beehive, of course!  Hard at work, like the White House staff, they kept buzzing about with little notice of these awestruck visitors standing and staring.

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The White House Kitchen Garden provides food for the First Family as well as invited guests, and the extra produce is donated to Miriam’s Kitchen. That’s right, the White House does exactly what we’re asking you to do…share extra garden bounty with neighbors in need! This garden is also a teaching garden—a place where local school kids can come and dig in the dirt with the First Lady, learn about growing food and get excited about eating healthy.  Check out what Michelle Obama had to say about here.

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In it’s first year, the White House Kitchen Garden produced 740lbs of fruits and vegetables. Since then, row covers have been added for use in the cooler months to extend the harvest.

This garden is the first of it’s kind since Eleanor Roosevelt’s (very tiny) victory garden. I hope it remains here on the grounds permanently as an example to all that growing food, eating healthy, and sharing with those in need is a model that we all can adopt—in our backyards, community gardens, balconies, rooftops, and fields.

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If you don’t have a league of volunteers and the help of the National Parks Service to maintain your garden, you can find tips and resources here and, as always, when you have enough to share visit to find a food pantry near you that is desperate for fresh food to feed their clients.

To learn more about touring the White House Kitchen Garden, click here.

Here are some more pictures from our visit:

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Here’s a milkweed plant in the pollinator’s section of the garden

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I was so jealous of the squash beds. The vine borers destroyed my entire crop this year!

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The White House Garden’s compost pile!

Food Pantry Friday

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It’s Food Pantry Friday – this week we are welcoming newly registered pantries in the following cities and towns that are eager to receive and distribute your fresh produce donations: Danbury, CT / Twin Falls, ID / San Antonio, TX / Bethesda, MD / Uniondale, NY / Orange, MA / Peachtree City, GA / Farrell, PA / Stafford, TX / San Marcos, TX / Hempstead, NY / Cream Ridge, NJ / Shirley, NY / Sterling, CO / Manassas, VA / Mohegan Lake, NY / New Brunswick, NJ / Thornton, CO / Miami, FL / Lancaster, OH / Harker Heights, TX and Nampa, ID.


If your garden is producing more than you can use, freeze or preserve – please find a food pantry here: and share your abundance with those in need!