Grow A Row!

Despite this summer’s lack of rain, many home gardens are at their peak right now. Tomatoes, zucchini, other seasonal delights — they’re all ripe.

Some gardeners may actually have too much produce. They give it to neighbors — and still have extra food.

Every problem has a solution. This one is easy.

Grow-A-Row Westport is a volunteer effort to grow and donate fresh produce. Since 2020 members have planted, tended, harvested, and collected nutritious donations of fresh fruits vegetables, and herbs to benefit food-insecure people and families throughout Fairfield County.

Bounty from the Westport Community Gardens.

Amy Unikewicz runs Grow-A-Row Westport. The program began in the spring of 2020 at the Westport Community Gardens, during the early COVID lockdown.

The idea was simple: encourage fellow Community Gardens members to grow an extra row (or more) to donate.

She set-up a large cooler. All season long, gardeners filled it with freshly harvested items. Several members helped transport over 200 grocery bags were donated to the Center for Food Equity and Economic Development (FEED) in Bridgeport.

Westport continues to sustain the effort. Early on, Pippa Bell Ader of the Zero Food Waste Initiative and Sustainable Westport, and Aileen Brill of Christ & Holy Trinity Church, helped with logistics.

Last year Pippa connected Amy with Westporter Haley Schulman — national site coordinator with Food Rescue US – Fairfield County, a non-profit that picks up otherwise-wasted food from restaurants and supermarkets, and delivers it to pantries and shelters.

Haley — also a Wakeman Town Farm committee member — loved Amy’s idea to expand Grow-A-Row Westport beyond the Community Gardens.

They met Lori Cochran, director of the Westport Farmers’ Market. She championed the idea of a Grow-A-Row community collection cooler every Thursday at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

By the donation cooler at the Westport Farmers’ Marker: Lori Cochran, WFM director; Amanda Sayegh, Westport Housing Authority director of programs and resident services; Amy Unikewicz, Grow-A-Row Westport founder; Haley Schulman, national site coordinator with Food Rescue US – Fairfield County, and Food Rescue US volunteers, Jennifer Seideman, Darryl Kowalsky and Susie Kowalsky.

The Wakeman Town Farm Committee supported Grow-A-Row collections at their weekly farm stand too.

Haley committed Food Rescue US – Fairfield County’s network of volunteers to transport the fresh produce, and found agencies that are a good fit for the collections.

Grow-a-Row at Wakeman Town Farm.

Now in its third year, the expanded Grow-A-Row Westport effort continues to, um, grow.

All home gardeners are invited to donate at any of 3 drop-off spots:

  • Thursdays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Westport Farmers’ Market, Imperial Avenue lot)
  • Saturdays (9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wakeman Town Farm farm stand, 134 Cross Highway)
  • Daily (8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church Branson Hall, 75 Church Lane).

Westporter Cornelia Olson donates a huge rutabaga.

Not a gardener? Grow-A-Row gladly accepts fresh produce from your CSA, refrigerator, even “freshly-purchased” at the Farmers’ Market or Wakeman Farm Stand.

Each week, volunteers with Food Rescue US – Fairfield County deliver the donated produce to agencies in Bridgeport and Westport, including: FEED Center, Lucy Baney Family Reunification Center at Career Resources CT, Fridgeport (Bridgeport’s first community fridge), and the Westport Housing Authority.

Westport Housing Authority director of programs and resident services Amanda Sayegh says that residents are very appreciative of the fresh donations. They’re shared among 221 families, including seniors and families with children, and prioritized to the most food-insecure residents.

“Fresh vegetables are considered a luxury for many,” Amanda says. One resident was “thrilled” to receive fresh lettuce — something they had not been able to purchase for a long time.

You may shake your head, wondering how you’ll get rid of all that lettuce.

Now you know: Grow-A-Row!

(For more information, follow @growarowwestport on Instagram.)

(Want to help “06880” grow? Please click here to donate!)

Joe Stadek lives in Ridgefield — and donates to Westport’s Grow-a-Row project. (All photos courtesy of Amy Unikewicz)

2 responses to “Grow A Row!

  1. Jack Backiel

    If you look at the carrots in the picture, you can tell they were grown in dry soil. Carrots like consistently moist soil. Besides that, I love the idea of helping out folks who need help.

  2. Amy Unikewicz

    Dan, thank you so much for helping spread the word about Grow-A-Row Westport! The community support for this effort has been tremendous, and so many kind-hearted, generous neighbors have shared their home garden harvests all summer. Every fresh tomato, zucchini, or head of lettuce donated makes a real difference!