This blog focuses a lot on restaurants that you can visit in the Alamo City, but sometimes it may be easy to forget that there are people in our city where finding something to eat (much less eating out) can be quite challenging. Holly Hirshberg is on a mission to end hunger through sustainable gardening via her nonprofit organization, The Dinner Garden. Her mission is to encourage home and community gardening by providing folks with seeds that they can plant to grow their own food.
If every great oak comes from a tiny acorn, Holly Hirshberg shows that all one needs that to combat a seemingly insurmountable problem as hunger is a tiny seed. The Dinner Garden is a nonprofit organization that began germinating in her mind back in 2008 and has blossomed into an organization that has delivered seeds to more than 48,000 families.
Hirshberg developed the idea for The Dinner Garden in 2008 while in her backyard. The economical collapse had begun taking its toll and people needed assistance who had never needed it before. Donations were lower than they had been in the past and the rising demand coupled with the decline in food donations made for limited assistance to be doled out.
Hirshberg’s family was not immune to the collapse. She was worried that her husband, who worked in the banking industry, might lose his job. Realizing how necessary food is to a family, Hirshberg planted a garden in her backyard. “The first thing I did [when it looked like her husband might lose his job] was plant a garden, because that was at least one thing that I didn’t have to worry about. I didn’t have to worry if I could feed my kids.”
This garden proved quite timely as it was able to yield enough food for her family to get through the difficult economic slowdown. A former librarian who had left her job to stay at home with her two children, Hirshberg began to think about how gardening helped her family out and realized that it could also help others who were hungry. She realized that if people grew their own food they could alleviate some of the demand on the Food Bank.
Hirshberg said that the only ingredients needed to start a garden is soil, sun, water, and seeds. “The most expensive part is the seeds. You can grow using what you have in your house, you can make your own compost out of kitchen scraps. The only thing you need to buy are the seeds, and I thought if I could take care of that for people there would be no expense [for them]. ”
She began shopping her idea around to different nonprofit organizations but soon realized that it might take months or years before they could implement her idea. Not one to sit around idly, Hirshberg decided to go ahead and begin The Dinner Garden herself.
Admittedly not a green thumb (“I’m not a great gardener… it’s not like I put something in the ground and it grows magically like some people.”), she realized that if she could produce a sustainable garden then anyone could. The Dinner Garden’s website provides links to many resources on her website such as (World Food Garden and Life on the Balcony) that can help individuals understand what types of crops are best in their region along with when to plant them.
Fortunately, San Antonio has one of the greatest year round growing climates in the United States. The mild winters and days filled full of sunshine lend the Alamo City to be a great place to grow a variety of crops. For the winter, Hirshberg advises to grow greens, broccoli, cauliflower as all of those survive the frosts San Antonio might get. Currently, she is preparing for her spring garden by planting carrots, onions, and peppers inside which will be transferred to her outdoor garden as the weather warms.
Hirshberg has two children that she and her husband adopted from foster care and realizes both the physical and social impact of a family being hungry. “I know the life long effects of children who don’t have enough food. I’ve had my children 8 to 9 years… and they still worry about having enough to eat. Even though they have been eating every day, three to five times a day.”
This prompted her to launch Seeds for School Kids where students in need from around the country are sent seeds home along with instructions on how to grow them. The goal is to empower these students with a way to grow food that can ultimately help out their family. Being hungry causes both parents and children to be both irritable and argumentative and, Hirshberg believes, that by having food on the table those tensions can subside and the family can be more cohesive.
The Dinner Garden is available to provide help to anyone who might be in need. Due to the fact that it takes several weeks for a person to yield the benefits of planting a seed, there are no requirements for applicants requesting seeds. Hirshberg wants to ensure that anyone in need, or who may need assistance in the near future, has the resources to grow their own food.
Holly enjoys stopping by Tong’s Thai on Austin Highway to get a mango bubble tea which is like a mango smoothie with tapioca in it. “Anytime we are remotely near there, I have to get it for take out, it’s amazing.” She will usually order the spring rolls to accompany any of their noodle dishes.
Another favorite stop is Julian’s Pizzeria on Bitters and West where her family orders a pepperoni, onions, mushroom, and garlic pizza.