CORVALLIS - Oregon gardeners are urged to grow more food for the hungry this year, the second of the "Grow an Extra Row" program in Oregon.

The program was well-received last year by both growers and Oregon food banks, said Ann Marie VanDerZanden, state leader for the Oregon State University Extension Service's Master Gardener Program.

VanDerZanden said the trick was linking gardeners with the food banks, which normally do not receive smaller donations of fresh produce because of problems with coordination and storage of such perishables.

Last year, the first year of a statewide "Grow an Extra Row" program, generous Oregon gardeners donated heaps of their garden-fresh produce to emergency food banks.

Amy Stork, spokesperson for the Oregon Food Bank in Portland, said the Oregon Food Bank is the hub of a network of hunger-relief agencies in Oregon and in Clark County, Wash.

Despite record low unemployment rates, the number of people who seek emergency food is rising due to what Stork calls a harsh paradox in Oregon: A booming economy is fueling skyrocketing housing costs, often forcing lower-income families and individuals into making tough choices, like paying the rent or buying food.

Last year, more than 400,000 Oregonians received emergency food boxes from the Oregon Food Bank's various locations while emergency shelters and soup kitchens served 2.7 million meals. Quarterly statistics for this year indicate that the 1998-99 totals, due to be compiled July 1, will be even higher.

With the help of Master Gardeners trained through the OSU Extension Service program, Oregon's gardeners brightened that situation last summer and autumn by contributing part of their harvest bounty.

Usually, emergency food boxes contain enough packaged, processed and canned items to feed a family for three to five days. Thanks to the gardeners, the boxes included fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes and lush melons last year.

Oregon's "Grow an Extra Row" program is an offshoot of the national "Plant a Row" program begun by the Garden Writers of America.

The program had existed in Jackson and Josephine counties for several years before the statewide effort was launched last year. This year, the Master Gardeners have committed to making the effort even more successful and to better the tracking of donations and distribution, VanDerZanden said.

For more information about how to become involved in the "Grow an Extra Row" program next year, contact VanDerZanden at 541-737-2503, Wendy Kroger of the Master Gardener program at 503-391-0613, or John Dougal at the Oregon Food Bank, 503-282-0555, ext. 260.

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Ann Marie VanDerZanden, 541-737-2503