Ron O'Donovan remembers asking his wife Eunice to scribble down the phrase "Grow a Row" and stick it in the glove compartment.
It was the end of summer; the couple was headed out on holiday and they had 150 pounds of leftover potatoes from their backyard garden and no place for them. They also wanted to help the city's hungry.
That bounty from the garden would grow into a huge idea to help people who can't grow their own food and can't buy enough of it, either.
Flash forward 27 years. O'Donovan's now a widower. But the idea he and his wife hatched in the car that summer day is reaping vegetables from hundreds of backyards that supply the province's largest food bank every year.
This is the 27th year for the food bank's Grow a Row challenge.
O'Donovan was on hand with Winnipeg Harvest spokeswoman Chris Albi and high school students at a press conference to promote the event again at Harvest's raised gardens behind its warehouse on Winnipeg Avenue.
Every province runs similar annual challenges, and in the United States, 15,000 Americans rely on the produce from backyard gardeners.
"The program is a win-win for every food bank in North America," O'Donovan said.
In Winnipeg, more than three million pounds of potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables have been distributed since the program first started.
This year, Food Matters Manitoba, a local environmental charity that encourages the growing of locally sustainable gardens from northern Manitoba to the border, teamed up with Winnipeg Harvest Monday for the annual summer challenge to backyard gardeners.
That means this year, gardeners who plant "an edible landscape" that looks as good as it tastes can vie for the honour of planting the prettiest food from the earth and win prizes from local garden-supply greenhouses.
The charity donated 129 gardening kits to Manitoba schools for kids to plant vegetables for the food bank this summer.
"The contest is open from June 15 to Aug. 15. All you have to do is take a photo and enter online at our website at foodmattersmanitoba.ca," said the charity's acting director Stefan Epp-Koop.
He said he's hoping gardeners who enter the contest will also donate some of their vegetables to the food bank.
Some 35 schools have signed up to grow a row this year and for one school, that garden is at a seniors' home, the Riverside Lions in St. Vital.
Grade 11 students from J.H. Bruns Collegiate are taking up trowels and seed packets under a school project called SHOW, Students Helping Our World. Every year, the project chooses a theme, and this year it's about growing your own food.
"We're working on turning our dream into reality," said Jamie Campbell.
She and Julia Stoyko, both 16, are part of a team of 10 to 12 student gardeners who will work with seniors to produce root vegetables for Winnipeg Harvest.
Winnipeg Harvest supplies food for nearly 64,000 people, half of them under 18, every month, according to the food bank's figures for 2011-12.