As gardening becomes more popular and food insecurity increases, this small Vermont city found a solution to help give fresh food to people who need it most.

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Since the coronavirus pandemic began, we've seen lots of changes in our lives, including when it comes to the food we eat. People have changed how they grocery shop, are cooking at home (and baking up a storm) and gardening more. One very large, unfortunate change has been that more people are worried about where their next meal is going to come from. Job losses have led to increases in food insecurity and long lines at food banks as they try and meet a growing demand.

To help put fresh food in the hands of those who need it, take advantage of the gardening boom and create a stronger, local food supply, Burlington, Vermont recently launched Plant for the People. The new initiative encourages gardeners to donate surplus home-grown produce to Feeding Chittenden, a local food shelf. The goal is to grow and donate 100,000 pounds of local food by "putting a pepper in every pot." Here's how they're helping make it happen.

As part of the new program, Burlington teamed up with a local nursery to offer free seedling starters to city residents to help them get their gardens going and encourage more people to participate. They've already started distributing the free plants and have more distribution events planned in the coming weeks (growing season starts fairly late in this cold state). Local residents can also sign up on their website and pledge to share any extra fruits and vegetables they might have to donate.

Later in the season, they'll work with the gardening volunteers to safely collect the produce at specified drop-off sites and then the city will clean the fruits and vegetables and make sure they get to local food banks.

Since not everyone who wants to help will have a green thumb, Burlington is working on a plan to connect skilled gardeners with newbies. Growers are also encouraged to share photos and tips online using the hashtag, #Plant4People. (If you need some growing tips check out these easy-to-grow vegetables and herbs.)

Supporting your neighbors has never been more important and this innovative initiative is one fun way to help give back. If you're not a Burlington resident and want to help in your community, see what your local food bank is doing and how you might be able to donate money, time or food to help. And be sure to check out AmpleHarvest.org, a national organization that helps pair gardeners with local food banks in all 50 states.