Chip Paillex feeds hungry through America’s Grow-a-Row
Chip Paillex has a calling.
Paillex, 47, a resident of the Pittstown section of Union Township, Hunterdon County, is doing the honorable and the necessary, doing simply what Jesus did — feeding the hungry. As founder and president of America’s Grow-a-Row (AGAR), Paillex oversees and organization that provides life and sustenance to the masses.
To date, AGAR (www.americasgrowarow.org) has donated more than 3.5 million pounds of produce to feed the hungry and needy.
AGAR’s mission is to positively impact as many lives as possible through a volunteer effort of planting, picking, rescuing and delivering free fresh produce.
AGAR’s mission statement:
• Provide fresh, healthy produce to those in need;
• Educate people of all generations about hunger and ways to help;
• Introduce our youth to farming and healthy eating;
• Cultivate tomorrow’s leaders to give back;
• Contribute to the sustainability of agriculture.
This especially is critical because the need is so great.
According to Rutgers Against Hunger:
• As of 2010, 1,101,570 people live in food-insecure households in New Jersey.
• The Poverty Research Institute reports that one out of every five New Jersey families does not earn enough to afford basic necessities such as food, housing and child care, although 85 percent of these families have at least one working family member.
• In 2009, 49 percent of emergency food clients in New Jersey reported having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities or heating fuel (up from 40 percent in 2006); 48 percent had to choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage (up from 39 percent in 2006); and 34 percent had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or medical care (up from 31 percent in 2006).
“I work virtually every day and each day I take great pride knowing I’m following God’s calling for me and that the organization that my daughter and I created is feeding the bellies of many and also feeding our volunteers with the opportunity to give back and volunteer in a way that brings great reward,” said Paillex, a native of Haworth, Bergen County. He is honored to provide free, fresh produce that will be on someone’s plate often same that evening because of the hard work in the fields that day.
What now is a large, important operation got its start the way many worthwhile endeavors begin — a good person, with a good idea.
In 2002, “My daughter Kyra and I had a 30-by-30-foot garden and had extra produce. We saw an article in the paper requesting extra produce to be delivered to the local food pantry and in that year we delivered 120 pounds and then immediately realized there was a major need for fresh produce for those who are food insecure. That started our mission and became the beginning of our nonprofit program,” Paillex recalled. “We knew there was a need so our impression was that it was the perfect model to get healthy produce to those dealing with hunger.”
AGAR grows, gleans and gives away free fresh produce by organizing groups to plant and harvest from its own farms and our partner farms:
• Peaceful Valley Orchards — Pittstown section of Union Township (main location);
• Milford, Alexandria Township Farm — Milford (owned by AGAR);
• Valley Crest Farm and Preserve — Annandale section of Clinton Township;
• Longmeadow Farms — Hope;
• Riamede Farm — Chester;
• Ort Farms — Long Valley.
For each group of volunteers that visits, AGAR provides a short presentation about hunger issues and healthy eating.
Since working with AGAR, Paillex has been surprised by the amount of need and number of struggling people. Also the lack of healthy food for those who live in low-income areas and the high rate of childhood obesity and diabetes are major concerns for AGAR.
“Many of these things can be reversed with healthy foods and a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said, adding that AGAR is an effort to combat these critical concerns.
AGAR does more than just give away food.
“It’s a program that not only feeds those in need, but also it feeds those who are looking for a meaningful way to give back. It’s life changing for most people who participate in it,” Paillex explained.
Beneficiaries of AGAR produce and distributors of the produce include:
• Branching Out Food Pantry of Phillipsburg;
• My Brother’s Keeper of Camden;
• Clinton AME Zion Church of Newark;
• Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside (the FoodBank distributes to pantries throughout the state for AGAR);
• Fairview Community Center Free Farm Market in Camden;
• Flemington Baptist Church;
• Flemington Area Food Pantry;
• Franklin Township Food Pantry;
• Holland Presbyterian Church Food Pantry;
• Interfaith Food Pantry of Morris County;
• Lambertville St. John’s Food Pantry;
• Morristown Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center;
• Open Cupboard Food Pantry;
• Partners in A.C.T.S. Free Farm Market in Newark;
• Somerset Food Bank Network;
• St. Luke’s Medical Services in Camden;
• Team Walker Free Farm Market in Jersey City.
Kathleen DiChiara, the founder and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, is grateful for AGAR and what it provides.
According to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey:
• Nearly 1 in 4 food insecure households accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times during 2011.
• Over 1 million people were food insecure in New Jersey in 2010. Of those, almost half (45 percent) are not eligible for federal nutrition assistance. Nearly 1 in 5 children are food insecure.
• A survey of 29 major American cities (including Trenton) that comprise the taskforce on hunger and homelessness, found that 82 percent of those cities reported a rise in emergency food demand by an average of 22 percent. Nearly all of the cities (75 percent) expect demand for emergency food to continue to rise.
• Unemployment led the list of causes of hunger, followed by poverty, low wages and high housing costs. The study was conducted September 2011 through August 2012.
• Because of the high cost of living in New Jersey, nearly 1 in 4 of New Jersey residents — more than 2 million people — is considered poor (200 percent of the official poverty line).
• In New Jersey, a household must earn $25 dollars per hour to afford rent making it the fourth-most expensive housing wage in the nation.
“This year, America’s Grow-a-Row will provide The Community FoodBank of New Jersey 1 million pounds of fresh produce — we are thrilled,” DiChiara said. “We distribute food and groceries to charities in 17 of the 21 New Jersey counties and the produce is a wonderful help.”
“We support AGAR by promoting it within the nonprofit and philanthropic world and by providing the annual funding for its Fresh Produce Initiative. The last two summers we have brought, 50 at a time, more than 600 children from our Kid’s Café programs to the farm. Once there they get to learn about how food is grown and get to help pick vegetables and bring them home to their families.”
“I met Chip a couple of years ago and immediately was impressed,” DiChiara continued. “He is bright and talented and passionate about his work and I decided right then that we would work with Chip and we have ever since.”
The admiration is mutual.
“Kathleen has always been an enormous influence on my growth in the nonprofit sector, Paillex said. “Seeing how she started the food bank years ago and how it has grown to the level where it is today has always been inspiring to me. I look up to Kathleen and consider her to be a mentor in my journey down this road as we build AGAR.”
Paillex believes everyone should have the right to eat healthy and be able to feed their children fresh nutritious fruits and vegetables. He added that every child in the Garden State should be able to visit a farm and see where their food comes from, as well as experience eating fresh produce right off the plant.
“We need to educate our youth about where their food comes from, how to eat healthy and provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables for those folks, both young and old, dealing with food insecurity,” he said.
For those who wonder about Paillex’s motivation, he simply tells them that it is his calling and that he’s just following God’s plan for him.
“I’m very blessed that he has provided this opportunity for me to serve and I’m humbled to be helping those in need, and for giving other people of all ages the opportunity to share in our mission,” he said.
Many would be surprised to know that when Paillex started the program in 2002, he never had planted anything before. He never had a garden or an interest in farming.
“I learned from the Internet and a local old time farmer. It was a great experience learning all that I did over the years,” Paillex said.
“It’s a program that not only feeds those in need, but also it feeds those who are looking for a meaningful way to give back. It’s life changing for most people who participate in it. I can’t imagine not being a part of AGAR. It has become such a part of my family’s life and without it there would be an enormous void to fill. I’m convinced this is my calling and because of that, I will continue to make this mission the focus of my career.”
AGAR does face challenges. And Paillex laments a key one in particular: “Not being able to feed everyone who is dealing with food insecurity. The need is so great and it is a constant challenge to raise enough funds to help everyone in need.”
“I was delivering produce to the Flemington Food Pantry and as I was leaving, a woman came running out begging for me to come back again with more produce as she desperately needed it due to health reasons. Some of the folks that we serve are diabetic and they are clearly in need of fresh fruits and vegetables. It has become more than just a nice thing to do, it has become a necessity.
“Also, a gentleman came up to me once and helped me unload the produce from my car at the food pantry. He said to me he was not always like this … he had a job, had a house, but then got sick and lost everything. Now he is reliant on the food pantry, living in an efficiency cooking off of a hot plate.”
Paillex said AGAR will continue to grow, because the need is great.
“We are just scratching the surface as there are so many folks in need, many of which are our neighbors. Many folks are hungry and we just don’t realize it because it’s a silent and hidden issue many times,” he said.
Paillex added it is key to him that AGAR provides the opportunity to shape and mold our youth to be a much more charitable generation by giving them the chance to give back and volunteer in an extremely impactful manner.
In his spare time, Paillex enjoys running, hiking, enjoying the outdoors and spending time with his family.
“Hunger exists in every segment of society,” he said. “Whether it’s in the urban, suburbs or rural areas across the state, there are many people that are food insecure and dealing with hunger. If there was a way to extend the growing season into the winter months, that would be great. There are ways to make that happen, but would require a huge investment. Maybe in the future, possibly.”
Special Central Jerseyans is a biweekly series by Jay Jefferson Cooke, assistant editor/print and columnist for the Courier News and Home News Tribune, about the people, places and organizations of Central Jersey that have positively influenced our community. Special Central Jerseyans appears alternate Mondays. Do you have a recommendation? Contact Cooke at 92 E. Main St., Suite 202, Somerville NJ 08876. Phone: 908-243-6603. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JayJCookeCNHNT.