Missy Bidwell fights hunger, one garden at a time

Shannon Dortch
Missy, at far left, back row, and Emily, far right, second row, at the Nichols Old Home Day Parade.

On a spring day in 2016, Owego third-grader Emily Bidwell came home from school with a mission: to get her plant-savvy family to dedicate their vegetable garden to mitigating childhood hunger in Tioga County. Emily looked to her mom, Missy Bidwell, to get the project off the ground. Missy, a 17-year Cornell staff member, manages the production greenhouse for Cornell Botanic Gardens.

Emily was moved by the sobering statistics on childhood hunger in Tioga County – one in five children lack access to adequate food. Children that are food insecure are more likely to be sick, be sick longer, be hospitalized, have growth issues – both cognitive and physical – and have behavioral issues, according to Tioga Opportunities, Inc., and the Tioga County Anti-Hunger Task Force.  

Emily read about Katie’s Krops, a South Carolina-based non-profit founded by a nine-year-old girl. Its mission is to start and maintain vegetable gardens in every state, with harvests to be donated to help feed people in need. Katie’s Krops offered grants to help kids garden for hunger relief. Missy and Emily applied, were awarded a grant, and got growing.

“We donated all 10 of our raised garden beds at home to Katie’s Krops in 2016,” Missy Bidwell says. “We ended up donating more than 350 pounds of produce to the Lounsberry Food Pantry and Tioga County Anti-Hunger Task Force.”

This year, the Bidwell family, which includes dad Scott and brother Jaxon, wanted to reclaim most of its home garden for family use. So it sought another site for a Katie’s Krops garden. In collaboration with the Tioga Central School District, Catholic Charities and the Rotary Club, Emily and family now work five raised-bed gardens at the former Nichols Elementary school. Beets, kale, beans, lettuce, spinach, zucchini and yellow squash, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli and garlic flourish there, with Catholic Charities distributing the produce for hunger relief.

“It’s a lot of work,” Bidwell says. “We have to pick the garden, weigh the produce, log hours worked, capture pictures and upload them monthly to the grower’s website for Katie’s Krops.”

Alongside the gardening, the Bidwell family raises awareness of hunger mitigation and Katie’s Krops by participating in parades, such as the Strawberry Festival Parade in Owego and the Nichols Old Home Day Parade. Emily was sponsored by Tioga County Anti-Hunger task force to bring a mini farmer’s market to the Racker Center, and she presented on Katie’s Krops to the Tioga County Boys and Girls Clubs. The family has also helped lead the development of a five-acre garden at Tioga Central School; currently planted are potatoes, corn and pumpkins. If the garden thrives as expected, it should yield 5,000 pounds of potatoes, all of which will go to Tioga Central’s school lunch program, with the excess being distributed into the community, Bidwell says.

What keeps this family growing food for others?

“It’s about being giving members of the community,” Missy Bidwell says. “There’s a hunger crisis all the time in the community, and people who live in it can make a positive impact.”

Shannon Dortch is associate director of communications and marketing for Cornell Botanic Gardens.