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Planting 'seeds of hope'

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Web extra: CNN Hero Holly Hirshberg
  • CNN Hero Holly Hirshberg offers free seeds and gardening advice through her nonprofit
  • The Dinner Garden has helped more than 65,000 American families since 2008
  • Hirshberg says gardening is easy: "The seeds do all the work"

(CNN) -- By giving away seeds and teaching people how to grow their own food, Holly Hirshberg is helping to fight hunger in the United States.

Hirshberg is founder of The Dinner Garden, a nonprofit that has provided free packs of seeds to 65,000 families nationwide. The group also offers gardening supplies and tips.

CNN's Allie Torgan recently spoke with Hirshberg about her group's efforts to help families during the recession.

Allie Torgan: How easy is it for someone to take part in your program?

Holly Hirshberg: Anybody who wants to garden with us can. They fill out the forms, and then we find between 10 and 11 varieties of seeds that will grow in their area. We package up those seeds into little bags, and we label them individually. We try to ship out stuff so people can grow year round.

If you don't have an area to plant in your yard, grow in containers. You can grow on your front porch. You can grow in a window. People have more space to plant than they think they do. We had one gardener who grew on the headboard of her bed.

Torgan: Along with the financial benefits of growing one's own food -- and the health benefits from eating nutritious foods -- how else does gardening help people?

Hirshberg: When you're so stressed about being unemployed or about struggling to take care of your family -- which so many Americans struggle with every day -- it's so nice to have something to get your mind off it. It's a great place to spend family time.

When you have a crisis like this, especially on a national level, people feel bad and want to be alone. And that's the time when it's most important to be around other people. You feel better getting out in the world and seeing that things are going on, and feeling that ... energy. When people were able to get out in their garden, they were able to feel like there's hope. Things are going to get better.

Torgan: What's it like for you when you see kids holding fresh vegetables that came from your seeds?

Hirshberg: It's wonderful. That's the reward. We work for no money, and to see that we are making a difference -- to see that people's lives are improving -- it's magical. It's brilliant. It doesn't matter how I'm staying up till 2 in the morning. It doesn't matter how hard I'm working ... the long hours. It's so worth it that I look at those children and I think: "Those are going to be kids who never have to worry. That is a skill they will have forever."

Family is so important to me. And I love to see families doing things together. It's a nice way to bring them together. Parents and children are talking. Grandparents and children are talking. Neighbors and everybody are communicating, and I love that.

Torgan: What are your future goals for The Dinner Garden?

Hirshberg: We'd like to get through our waiting list (for free seeds). That's our main No. 1 goal because we do have so many people who still need our help.

We would like to go into more educational things to teach people how to use the fruit and vegetables that they grow. And we'd like to teach some gardening classes. ...

With just a couple minutes a day, you really can grow a lot of food for your family. You know, the seeds do all the work. That's what we tell our gardeners. We provide the seeds. We help you grow them. You eat the food. Goodbye hunger.

See the full story on CNN Hero Holly Hirshberg:
Free seeds helping Americans get by, live healthier