This post first appeared on We Can Grow It.

I’m proud to say that when Peterson Garden Project started in 2010, we were committed to growing food for others. Five seasons later, this program has really blossomed under the care of of dedicated leadership and volunteers.


At this time of year, we often think of what we are thankful for, and give to others in need.

One of the many beautiful and abundant Grow2Give harvests from Vedgewater Garden.

With many food pantries and soup kitchens relying on donations or cheaply purchased leftover or unwanted food, fresh fruits and vegetables are a rare site among staples like canned beans, rice and day-old bread. With a short shelf life, it’s not surprising: produce may be harvested at a farm days or weeks in advance of arriving at a distributor before it is transported again to neighborhood grocery stores. If it sits on the shelf too long, it’s more likely to spoil and be unsafe to eat, which often happens before the produce can make it to a pantry.

Many gardeners choose to grow their own food for different reasons: to eat more seasonally, to show their children where food comes from, or to have the fresh, healthy food for dinner. However, some gardeners grow food for others who cannot, or for people who otherwise would not have access to fresh produce. Since the beginning, Peterson Garden Project has worked with volunteers who grow food for neighborhood pantries and soup kitchens in each of their pop-up community gardens. These volunteer gardeners not only have their own plot at the garden to tend, but also prepare, plant, water, weed and harvest produce in the Grow2Give plots between April and November every year. This huge undertaking requires coordinating watering schedules, frequent garden visits, and sometimes harvesting in the rain or cold to get the produce to the pantry during a narrow drop-off time.

The volunteers at Land on Lincoln Garden harvested for Inspiration Cafe in the cold weather.

Many different types of salad greens and cooking greens at Care for Real.

This year, our Grow2Give volunteer gardeners grew over one ton (2,000 pounds) of fruits and vegetables just for our neighborhood pantries and soup kitchens: A Just Harvest in Rogers Park, Inspiration Café in Uptown, Lincoln Square Friendship Center in Albany Park, North Park Friendship Center in North Park, Care for Real in Edgewater, and First Slice Pie Café in Andersonville. Additional produce harvested from community gardeners’ plots (while folks were out of town, or during the gleaning after gardens closed) was also donated.

Fresh herbs and produce are treasured items here – luxuries that our clients could never purchase on their own…The difference that your donations make in the lives of our clients is a significant one. 

-Lyle Allen, Executive Director at Care for Real

Global Garden Grow2Give volunteer Kate with the day's harvest for Lincoln Square Friendship Center

Donations to First Slice, which will be made into healthy meals for up to 300 needy and homeless folks

What does it mean to grow a ton of food? When the cheapest food is often the least healthy, the produce that is donated to places that serve others in need is essential for a better diet. This year, our Grow2Give volunteers grew tomatoes, peppers, chiles, salad greens, cooking greens, summer squash, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatillos, raspberries, beans, peas, fennel, corn, eggplant, and over 35 different herbs and edible flowers.

I very much like to help people and my love for gardening is a great way to make it happen.

-David, Ashlandia Grow2Give Leader

If you’re wondering how to get involved in Peterson Garden Project’s Grow2Give program, sign up here. Want to learn more? Email and come to our Volunteer Soiree in March (details will be posted here). We are always looking for volunteers to donate their time to help plant, water, harvest and deliver produce. If you are unable to donate your time, please consider a cash donation to help buy soil and fertilizer for growing vegetables in over 100 garden plots.

LaManda JoyGrow2Give

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