“I can say that didn’t work out so I’m not gonna do it anymore, or I can say you know what, that didn’t work out but maybe that is going to put me on a path to something even better …”
Toni Reece: We are officially recording the interview for the Get Inspired! Project. Thank you so much, Holly, for agreeing to be part of this project, and before we go into the questions, can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Holly Hirshberg: My name is Holly Hirshberg. I am the Executive Director of The Dinner Garden. We are a nonprofit organization that gives free fruit and vegetable seeds to anyone in the United States who wants to start a garden.
Toni Reece: Wow, that sounds really exciting, actually. I am going to start just right in with the first question and ask you, when you think about the people that you inspire, who comes to mind and how do you inspire others?
Holly Hirshberg: I would like to say that I inspire our gardeners, the people who garden with The Dinner Garden. What we deal with every day are people who are struggling in this difficult economy, and what we try to do is show them that with a couple of seeds they can make their lives better. With hard work and dedication, things can improve. So we hope that with just a little bit of help from us, that people will learn that they can have better things in their life, have more, be more, and that there is a different way to do things than the way they have been doing it so far.
Toni Reece: Holly, how do you find these people?
Holly Hirshberg: Well, we find them a lot of different ways. When we first started out, we would go to Craigslist and put up a list in a state where we wanted to send seeds and say if you need free seeds, let us know, and we got a lot of people through that. Now, a lot of people are finding our website on their own by doing Google searches, or just search engine searches. We do a lot of outreach. We go to a lot of organizations here in San Antonio, and we talk to groups and just let them know that we are around if they know anybody who needs our help, to have them give us a call, and we also ask that people who get seeds from us and the people who donate seeds to us, we ask that they tell everybody that they know.
Toni Reece: I see. So, when you go, you literally do speaking engagements as well, too?
Holly Hirshberg: Yes.
Toni Reece: Okay. Now, when you talk to these people, the gardeners and people that are coming to you, how would you say that you help them to explore their own potential?
Holly Hirshberg: One of the things that was really important to me when we started The Dinner Garden was that everybody has the potential to help contribute to their community in a positive way. I have 2 special needs children and I know that it was very hard to find a way for them to contribute to society, because it’s just not set up for a lot of disabilities. So one thing we wanted to do was to let everybody know, the elderly people, shut-ins, disabled, homebound; there are things that you can do that will positively help your community. You’re not finished. Just because you are disabled, just because you have a problem, just because you don’t have a car, just because you are older doesn’t mean that there is not something really important that you can contribute to society. So we try and help people find something they can do for us, something they can do in their community where they can, even if it’s not for us; something they can do that will make them feel a part of it and feel connected, and explore their potential and do so much more than they ever thought possible.
Toni Reece: Wow, that’s really something! So not only are you out there, from what I’m hearing with what you’re saying, the way that you inspire others is to have people realize that hard work will help them through difficult times achieve more; they can see the achievement, and that you also, in the exploration part of this, it is contributing to society based on your own situation that no one should have an excuse at all that they cannot contribute something to make themselves feel connected in any way, that those excuses should be gone. Is that what I’m hearing you say?
Holly Hirshberg: Yes, exactly. What we felt like is you might not have found your niche yet. There might be something else you need to explore. I really enjoy trying to find a way. That is one of the things that I enjoy the most, and that is what made me come up with The Dinner Garden, is we were looking for a way to solve the problem of people not having food. I like to figure out the different ways. So, if we have someone come to us and say I really want to help, what can I do, we work to figure out what they can do because everyone can do something. Everyone can be involved, you just have to find the right thing.
Toni Reece: So if I come to you and I am not a gardener, but I am someone that I would like to participate in this and maybe grow my own food for whatever my reasons and motivation might be, then do you also help them with the planting of the garden?
Holly Hirshberg: Well, you know, we are fortunate to be working with a group called worldfoodgarden.org and what they do, we connect our gardeners with them. We do have master gardeners who help out with advice and things like that, but after we give people the seeds we mostly send them over to World Food Garden and they can connect people with gardening mentors, they tell you exactly when to plant for your area, they have gardening tutorials, all that kind of stuff.
Toni Reece: That’s fascinating. So they are also learning; at the same time they are learning a gift of how to garden and how to bring something to life, so it’s not just giving them the seeds, it’s also showing them how to do it.
Holly Hirshberg: That’s the thing; we always have a lot of people ask us if we are worried about people taking advantage because we don’t have any requirements, and what we give to people has relatively low cash value. The value comes from the work you put into it, and that is kind of how we feel about just everything in life. The value comes from what you put into it. Most of our gardeners have never gardened before. These are people who have grown up in a convenience age and are now struggling and looking for a better way, so they are learning to garden, and we just say, you know, if it doesn’t work out, let us know, we’ll send you more seeds and we’ll try again. It doesn’t always work out the first time. I know when I started growing it didn’t work out the first time, that’s for sure!
Toni Reece: I want to just clarify one thing that you’ve mentioned, and that is that you said there are no requirements?
Holly Hirshberg: Right.
Toni Reece: What does that mean?
Holly Hirshberg: We don’t ask anyone to justify their need to us. A lot of social service organizations, when you go to have to meet with a social worker and you have to fill out forms and prove your income and all that kind of stuff. We don’t have any of that. What we say is if you need seeds, we trust that you have that need. So if anyone comes to us, all they have to say is “hey, can I have some seeds”, and we will absolutely put them right in the mail to them. We know that some people, it’s going to take them a lot longer to get the help they need. They are going to have too much pride or just have been working their whole life and don’t want to come ask for help. We are hoping to get those people before they get in real trouble, that we can help cut their grocery bill, that they will grow with us and not have to choose between food and medicine, between food and their pet, or feeding their kids and not feeding their parents. We want to get those people in advance, but we also want people to garden with us who don’t need the gardening help, and those people we ask, if you grow, please donate what you aren’t going to use to someone who will. Donate to a food pantry. Donate to a friend. There are always people who need food and food pantries very rarely have fresh produce, so if you can take it to your food bank and drop it off, there is going to be a kid who has apples in their lunch.
Toni Reece: Holly, what do you need to be inspired? Where do you go for inspiration?
Holly Hirshberg: Well I tell you, I love problems that seem to not have a solution. I love that. I always consider that my super power, that I can solve unsolvable problems. I don’t have a real linear way of thinking so I can come to a solution that maybe someone else hasn’t thought of. And that is what happened with The Dinner Garden is that, you know, we’re trying to solve hunger, we’re trying to get people to have food without having to have the gas money to get to the food bank. I am inspired by problems that don’t seem to have a solution and I’m inspired by the people that I see doing amazing things with their lives. I see ordinary people who don’t have special training, they haven’t had privileged upbringings, they haven’t had all the advantages you would expect someone to have to do something really extraordinary, and they do that and I look at that and that makes me want to work harder and do more.
Toni Reece: So you’re inspired by the ordinary that can become the extraordinary.
Holly Hirshberg: Exactly, yes.
Toni Reece: And when you do your own soul searching and you’re looking for inspiration, how do you know when you need it? How do you know that it is time for you to refuel and recharge and to become re-inspired?
Holly Hirshberg: I think like everybody else, you have your good days and bad days. I know that some days I’ll just be dragging, and it’s like ah, I don’t have anything to do, I don’t want to do anything, maybe this isn’t the right thing for me to do. You know, we’re doing The Dinner Garden, it’s going great, and then you have those days when it’s like, well, am I on the right path? And those are the days where I really try and find someone and see what they’re doing, and then see how I can maybe incorporate their ideas into how I’m running things, or something that will get me excited again about my project. I think everybody … you lose enthusiasm every now and then. Just because you get discouraged or someone says something or you’re tired or whatever, and I think it’s really important for me to then, when I start feeling discouraged or when I start feeling like I’m spinning my wheels, to try something new. I always tell my kids, when you feel bad about yourself you need to get out and help other people, and that’s what is going to make you feel better, and so we just try and kick it up and do more for more people and then, you know, it swings you right out of it.
Toni Reece: And what do you need, Holly, in order to explore your own potential further?
Holly Hirshberg: I need the inspiration of other people. I need to run things by other people. When we’re trying to do something with The Dinner Garden I always go to everybody I know; we go on Facebook, we go on Twitter, and I say what do you think? What are your thoughts on this? This is what I’m thinking about, what are your thoughts? And I always get such inspired ideas from other people who say why don’t you look at it this way? I’m really the type, with our organization we focus on how we are going to make this work as opposed to all the things that will not work. We say, we’ll just do it and if it doesn’t work, we’ll rework it. And so I see what other people are doing and I say, wow, they can do that, there’s no reason I can’t do that too; or, they thought of it this way, that’s a really interesting way of looking at it and it gives me a new perspective, and I love having a new perspective.
Toni Reece: And that helps you explore your own potential, getting that new perspective?
Holly Hirshberg: It really does because I think a lot of time we get stuck in one way of thinking; this is what I want to do, this is how I’m gonna do it. Well, that doesn’t always work out and then you have your choice. I can say that didn’t work out so I’m not gonna do it anymore, or I can say you know what, that didn’t work out but maybe that is going to put me on a path to something even better, so there, then I will have what I want.
Toni Reece: What I’m hearing from you is that when you put this organization together and what you just do normally, which is inspiring others through hard work and helping them to be more and also exploring their own potential to make them feel connected no matter what their challenges are in life, that you do a lot of … that you want people to learn from others, and that learning, what I’m hearing you say, comes from helping others, and so that’s what you do when you inspire others and explore their potential, but that to me really correlates with what you need for inspiration and also what you need for exploring your own potential, which what you’ve said is, you know I like problems that don’t have a solution, and finding ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things and also learning from others. So it sounds to me that what you need is also transcending into what you do.
Holly Hirshberg: Yeah, I think you’re right. I like community. I like that sense of connectedness, and I think a lot of people are missing that in their life. So I seek that out for myself and then I try to bring that into other people’s lives as well.
Toni Reece: You can hear that. That came across very loud and clear in this interview, and I really want to thank you for wanting to be part of this project and for sharing a snapshot of your needs, not only your own needs for inspiration and exploration, but your approaches as well that others can learn from and benefit from. I appreciate you giving your time today and being part of this project.
Holly Hirshberg: Well thank you so much for letting me be on here. I am so looking forward to hearing what the other people say. Like I said, I go to other people for inspiration and I know that there are going to be lots of people who say things that make me think of something new and try something new, so I am really looking forward to it. Thank you.
Toni Reece: It’s been a pleasure, Holly, and I hope that we speak soon, and thank you so very much.
For more information about Holly Hirshberg: www.dinnergarden.org