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Seeds for Change

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Seeds for Change

Northern Lights charity takes a proactive approach to help

Back in 2009, the Board of Directors of Northern Lights, Inc. formed the Northern Lights Community Trust. Managed by a board of seven NLI members, the trust provides funds to non-profit groups and members throughout the service territory of the local electric company.

One area the trust focuses on is hunger, and not only are dollars raised distributed to area food banks and those in need, but a series of distributions of food takes place as well. Recently, in fact, over 6 tons of food was distributed in North Idaho.

At the urging of Wayne Nishek of Bonners Ferry, a director with the community trust, the group has also begun distributing garden seeds to those who request them. Over 600 packages of organic seeds donated by a company in Washington (Northern Lights pays the shipping) have been delivered to area food banks, extension offices, and directly to those in need at agricultural fairs this year, in a gesture reminiscent of the adage to “teach a man to fish.”

“So many people [who have received the seeds] have thanked me for this chance to provide their own food,” Nishek said. “I hope we’re able to do this next year, too.”

It’s likely the need will still be there. An article in the Idaho Statesman in January this year reported, “Idaho has set its own record, as the number of people receiving food stamps rose from about 87,000 in 2007 to about 229,000 in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Now, 15 percent of Idahoans get food stamps.” And a 2010 report by the USDA found that Idaho ranks 36th in the nation for “food insecurity”—11.6 percent of Idaho’s residents experience, at some point during the year, a lack of ready access to nutritionally adequate, safe food.

Gardening is one path to increasing a family’s food security, providing that family has a place where they can grow a garden. “But seeds can be relatively expensive for people who want to do that,” Nishek said.
While gardening can be as simple as tossing some seeds into dirt, reliable production of food requires at least a little bit of knowledge, and that’s where Idaho’s Extension Service (through the University of Idaho) can come into play, offering support for the first-time gardener. This is also one place where the seeds from Northern Lights can be obtained.

As more and more people struggle with a less-than-robust economy, gardening is growing in popularity. Not only do local garden resource businesses report an increased number of people beginning to plant a home garden, the National Garden Association has reported increases in the number of home gardeners nationwide for that last few years.  That association, by the way, maintains a website at www.gardening.org, that offers a lot of resources to those interested in home gardens. An update of the 40s victory gardens (which were a promotion of the U.S. Extension Service), today’s new backyard (and front yard) vegetable plots are often called “recession gardens,” and the internet is full of ideas for “no-cost” gardens, and ways to scavenge gardening items you might need.

While a home garden can offer immediate, caloric benefits to those struggling with our current economic climate, often overlooked are the other benefits it brings, as well.

There’s the time spent outdoors, at least a limited amount of exercise, the quality of the food eaten, and the sheer empowerment that comes with being able to provide even a small portion of your own food. As Nishek said, “These seeds motivate people to get outside. They just won’t leave a packet of seeds laying around on the kitchen counter.”

If you’d like to help Northern Lights in their efforts to provide seeds to make a positive change in peoples’ lives, and you are a Northern Lights Cooperative member, participate in Operation Round-Up (rounding up your bill to provide funding for the trust). If you’re not a member of Northern Lights, or if you want to provide more support, consider a direct donation to the Northern Lights Community Trust, at PO Box 269, Sagle, ID 83860.
If you’d like to learn more about starting your own garden, contact your local Extension Service office for more information.

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Landon Otis

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Homepage, Headlines, gardening, Northern Lights Cooperative, Operation Round-Up, Idaho Extension Service, Wayne Nishek, food stamps, Northern Lights Community Trust

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