By Rick Mooney
Editor, eHay Weekly
A retired Tennessee farmer is seeking donations of small square bales of wheat straw for a project aimed at helping Gulf Coast Region residents, hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, grow low-cost, fresh food.

Lorna Donaldson, of Donaldson Farms near Tiptonville, TN, came up with her Gardens Of Hope project earlier this summer. “I wanted to do something to help people in the Gulf area,” she says. “Given the unsettled economy and continuing fallout from environmental disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill, there is likely to be an enormous growth in the number of people unable to buy healthy food.”

Her idea centers around a kind of straw-bale garden her father used to grow to feed the family. “Basically, you place wheat straw in a sunny area near a water source so that it can be watered seven to 10 days or so,” explains Donaldson. “Then you add compost or compost tea weekly. As the straw heats up and cools down, a microbial synergy takes place and the area can be planted with seeds or transplants.

“It can work in areas with really poor soils and even on pavement. And you don’t really need any kind of tools for planting or weeding.”

Donaldson moved to New Orleans in late August to begin working with community groups and civic agencies to get the project running. It took a major step forward when a Lincoln, KS, farmer pledged 2,000 small square bales of wheat straw. “Our biggest hurdle right now is finding a sponsor who will cover the shipping cost to get that donation from Kansas to New Orleans,” says Donaldson.

Once the straw arrives, she plans to start gardens on three sites she has already secured in the New Orleans area. One site is more than an acre in size and will take about 450 bales of straw. The other two smaller sites will take 100-150 bales each. “As we get more straw, we’ll be able to get going on more sites,” she says. Eventually, she envisions the project expanding beyond New Orleans and southern Louisiana to other Gulf Coast areas.

Because Donaldson has lined up a 501(c)(3) sponsoring organization, donations to the project are tax deductible. “This can be a win-win for everyone involved,” she says. “People in need will have access to a steady, safe and nutritious food supply. Farmers with an excess supply of straw will have an outlet for that straw and get a tax deduction to boot.”

To learn more about the project and how to make donations, contact Donaldson at 731-325-2341 or ld@donaldsonfarms.com.