Consider sowing some extra seeds or planting some extra plants in your garden this year to help feed neighbors in need.

If anything proves my undying optimism, it’s my garden. For the past 18 years, I’ve tended a tenth of an acre, but my roots go back to a little patch behind my boyhood home.

Bigger has always meant better. When I was 13, I dug my garden wider without asking permission. I nearly jumped out of my boots when my shovel uncovered a black racer snake – or so I thought. It actually was the more lethal black gas line. I’m lucky to be alive. My mother wanted to plant that shovel somewhere else!

Gardeners are gamblers like farmers, but the stakes aren’t nearly as high. My biggest risk so far this year was planting potatoes on March 30 – Good Friday – if only to prove to my father-in-law that I’m a good Irishman. I’m also a fool. Those rows have seen more snow than rain, and I might need to replant them.

Far greater risks are reaped in late summer, when potatoes, tomatoes and apples abound. If you don’t think excess garden produce is dangerous, you’ve never seen my wife when I suggest she drop whatever she’s doing to make salsa or pies. She’s made some unique suggestions about where to put my bumper crops. Just like Mom used to make!

Most of it winds up at Helping Hands food pantry. I don’t mean to boast. After planting most of this past weekend, I’m too sore to pat myself on the back.

Instead, I want to share more than just produce with neighbors in need. I hope to share my love of gardening with anyone who has a little soil to till, in hopes of reaping a broader harvest.

For starters, homegrown fruits and vegetables are healthy and inexpensive. It’s also hard to measure the value of the exercise, pride and peace of mind that gardening brings. Beyond that, food pantries always need fresh produce, and givers receive a feeling that money can’t buy.

You can go online to learn about efforts such as “Plant a Row for the Hungry,” but the concept is simple: sow extra seeds or plant extra plants and share what you reap with your local food pantry. Here in Knoxville, Helping Hands accepts donations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I hope to drop off some radishes soon. The darn things are growing like weeds. So are the weeds!

Good gardeners keep an eye on the future, whether they’re watching the weather, saving seeds or building the compost pile. One dream I’ve been tilling for a while involves community gardening in Knoxville. I’ve spoken with several local leaders to begin aligning many key factors, including land, supplies, know-how, money and time.

Time is the hardest thing to come by, and while I’ve spoken with some willing collaborators, it doesn’t look like we’ll get anything off the ground (or in the ground) this year. For the time being, I’m hoping to unearth more partners who share our hope. Contact me at or 641-842-2155 if you’re interested. It’s a worthy dream that someday could bear great fruit.

For now, I’m just sowing a seed.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at

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