When Chip Paillex relocated from Bergen County to rural Pittstown in 2002, he bought a 30-by-30-foot plot to start gardening with his then-4-year-old, Kyra. The land started off as a daddy-daughter project, but quickly bloomed into a far-reaching nonprofit after the duo donated their leftover produce to Flemington Area Food Pantry.
“The first time I went to the food pantry was quite telling,” Paillex recalls. “I remember this woman running out and saying to me, ‘Sir, please promise me that you’ll come back again.’” The woman explained that, for health reasons, she wanted fresh fruit and vegetables, but she could neither afford them nor find any at the pantry. That encounter drove Paillex to leave his corporate job at Unilever and start America’s Grow-a-Row.
Paillex’s organization aims to provide free, fresh and healthy produce to people experiencing food insecurity. A full-time staff plants crops across the nonprofit’s four Hunterdon County farms before thousands of volunteers—primarily coming from corporations and community groups, plus kids from underserved areas—harvest the 430 acres of land. Grow-a-Row donates 2.4 million pounds of food annually throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. To maximize the food’s freshness, produce is directly loaded onto trucks and delivered straight to food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries.
Grow-a-Row also saves bruised and nearly expired produce from going to waste, a process known as gleaning, by collecting donated, picture-imperfect food from Hunterdon County ShopRites and two New Jersey orchards, Hope’s Longmeadow Farm and Chester’s Riamede Farm.
Food insecurity means a lack of access to enough food to allow all members of a household to lead active, healthy lives, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It occurs for a variety of reasons, like living in a food desert—an area without access to fresh, affordable produce—or being forced into economic trade-offs, such as paying rent or medical bills instead of buying healthy food. New Jersey saw an estimated 56 percent increase in food insecurity due to the pandemic, leaving nearly 1.2 million residents unsure where their next meal was coming from, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.
Grow-a-Row, with the help of its volunteers, is striving to bring that number down. “Everyone should have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It shouldn’t be a luxury,” Paillex says. “It should be something everyone gets to enjoy, especially here in the Garden State.”
America’s Grow-a-Row was founded in 2002 by Chip Paillex to help people struggling with food insecurity by providing free, fresh produce. For more information, to volunteer or to donate, visit americasgrowarow.org or call 908-331-2962.
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