December 6, 2022

America’s Grow-A-Row: Garden State Giving

National Philanthropic Trust’s donors recommend thousands of grants every year. This new series, Grants In Action highlights the breadth of causes and organizations NPT’s donors are supporting with grant recommendations from their donor-advised fund accounts. 

Author Tom Miller, PR and Brand Manager

Earlier this year, more than 200 volunteers gathered at a working farm in Pittstown, NJ. Their objective on this blustery fall morning was to harvest 30,000 pounds of sweet corn in under two hours. By noon, more than 120,000 servings of food were on a truck and heading to food banks across New Jersey and beyond, provided at no cost. These impressive numbers are reproduced every single day during America’s Grow-a-Row’s 16-week season.

America’s Grow-a-Row’s mission is to positively impact as many lives as possible through a volunteer effort of planting, picking, rescuing and delivering free, fresh produce. Four farms totaling 420 acres provide more than 17 different crop varieties to those in need, educate on a wide range of topics related to food insecurity and healthy eating and contribute to ongoing sustainability efforts. Over the last two decades, more than 17 million pounds of produce have been delivered to food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, Free Farm Market® programs and healthcare organizations. The organization’s reach has expanded to 15 states over the years.

For founder and CEO Chip Paillex, the growth of this unique nonprofit has been more bountiful than he could have imagined. “This all started twenty years ago as a simple ‘daddy/daughter’ project. I thought it would be a fun way to bond and get my four-year old to eat healthy,” Paillex recalls.

Adept at efficiency, Paillex soon grew more produce than he could give away to family and friends. He happened upon a short article in a local paper that read “if you have extra produce, bring it to the food pantry and grow a row for the hungry.” From that humble start, more than 68 million servings have been given to communities that need it most.

According to Feeding America, more than 1 million New Jersey residents experienced food insecurity in 2021, including 300,000 children. Across the country, food deserts – areas that lack access to fresh, affordable produce – are rampant. While food security has improved since the height of the COVID-19 crisis, historic inflation has now put additional pressure on family budgets.

The work of harvesting so much produce is mostly accomplished by an army of 9,000 volunteers. For volunteer Alex Rogovin, giving back is personal. “I’ve been coming here to volunteer a few times each season for about six years now,” says Rogovin. “Food deserts are all around us, costs keep going up and food insecurity touches more people than you would think. People often must make hard decisions, like choosing between heating oil and groceries. If I can do something to help people avoid making that decision, I will.”

During COVID, so many folks with DAFs came to us and gave heavily. Most DAF grants were unrestricted which means we were able to put the money where it was needed most.

Rogovin’s volunteer efforts are part of a workplace giving program. “Our company gives us time to use for volunteering, so a large group of us visit three or four times each year to help. It’s a great way to give back.”

America’s Grow-a-Row has seen significant growth in its operations over the past decade, thanks in part to a mix of philanthropic support. “Without people willing to give – both in terms of their time and through grantmaking – this work cannot get done,” says Paillex. “My goal is to feed people in need, but it’s about feeding hearts, too. I want anybody who touches this program to walk away changed and to look at the impact of hunger a little differently. It’s not about the pounds, it’s about the people.”

Paillex sees parallels between America’s Grow-a-Row and donor-advised fund support. “During COVID, so many folks with DAFs came to us and gave heavily,” he states. “Most DAF grants were unrestricted which means we were able to put the money where it was needed most.”

Just as America’s Grow-a-Row can move fresh produce to communities in need quickly, DAF donors move in much the same way by responding quickly in times of crisis or immediate need. America’s Grow-a- Row reports that an increase in operational flexibility allowed for the continued operation of critical services at a time when volunteer efforts were made difficult during the first year of the pandemic. It also allowed for a rethinking of how the work was accomplished. Unrestricted grant support from DAFs was used to source new equipment and implement new planting and harvesting methods. Now, the seasonal yield is an astounding 60 percent higher than before 2020.

Paillex credits his love for what he does, and a novel partnership with like-minded volunteers and donors, for the success of America’s Grow-a-Row. “We’re not the solution to hunger. We’re part of the solution. DAF donors are a part of that solution as well,” Paillex says. “Everybody has a passion. Turns out, my passion was gardening. I’m blessed that my passion can also serve a purpose. I see a direct connection with people who use donor-advised funds. Donors are passionate, and they want their charitable intent to serve a purpose.”

About the Author

Tom Miller is a writer, line producer, project manager and creative content professional with more than 20 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector. Prior to joining NPT, Tom worked with a series of large-scale universities and performing arts institutions in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. From video production and live events to audio storytelling and the written word, he enjoys discovering the core emotional value of any subject.