Fall Harvests for Those in Need

Share the abundance of a fall harvest and avoid food waste by donating your fresh, homegrown excess to local organizations that can pass your nutritious produce along to those who have none.

  • Since consuming fresh produce is the healthiest way to nourish your body, communities are working to provide these healthy foods to everyone in an accessible way.
    Photo by Dreamstime/(c) Dolgachov
  • Many food banks are equipped to store large amounts of food, even perishable produce, to feed those in the surrounding communities.
    Photo by Getty Images/davelogan
  • Whether through a personal or community garden, you can grow and donate specific types of produce to aid those in need.
    Photo by Adobe/©Joshua Resnick
  • Community gardens promote garden education and allow people to plant more than they might have in their own spaces.
    Photo by Adobe/©alisonhancock
  • Get creative with your small-space garden by using items like cinderblocks to create effective and uniquely contained growing spaces.
    Photo by Stocksy United/Kelli Seeger Kim
  • If everyone grew and donated a small amount of their homegrown produce, national hunger could be greatly reduced.
    Photo by Adobe/©olga pink

This is the season for food drives. Barrels pop up at grocery stores, schools, and churches to hold donations of non-perishable items. Without these cans and boxed goods, many Americans would face the reality of going hungry. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate in 2016, one in eight Americans don’t know where they will get their next meal. Underemployment, stagnant wages, and the rising cost of living since the Great Recession have challenged families nationwide with food insecurity. Additionally, alongside this food drive season, it is also the time for fall harvests in many gardens.

Late summer and fall are the seasons for bountiful produce. As a reader of Mother Earth Living, you’ve heard that consuming fresh produce is the healthiest way to nourish your body, especially since some canned or boxed foods may contain high amounts of added salt, sugar, or preservatives. But sometimes you can’t give away another zucchini, and food that could feed those who need a good meal instead gets heaped on the compost pile. Is there a way to serve people in need with this high-quality, homegrown food?

Ways to Donate Homegrown Produce

The need for nutritious meals in some households and an excess of fresh food in others form a critical point where a solution emerges from two problems: hunger and food waste. Whether you grow herbs in pots on your deck or have acres of land, you can help ease the suffering by donating your garden surplus to local food pantries and organizations — especially if you’ve had your fill of freezing summer squash, or are tiring of canning tomatoes. Many food banks are set up with cold storage for perishable items, and they’ll be highly appreciative of fresh instead of canned food.

“Our agencies are so grateful, because they don’t typically get fresh produce,” says Communications Manager Gene Hallinan of Harvesters — The Community Food Network (Harvesters), a regional food bank helping to feed those in the area of Kansas City, Missouri. “People are on fixed incomes, and the price of produce is so high at grocery stores.”

To participate, you’ll have to find out if your local pantry will accept fresh produce, as some aren’t equipped with coolers. If your local pantries aren’t accepting, you may still be able to donate garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. AmpleHarvest.org is a resource that connects home growers with food pantries on a nationwide scale — gardeners in all 50 states have donated to more than 8,200 food pantries across the country. The website contains resources for promoting awareness and educating people about how to end food waste and hunger.

Some organizations try to make it as convenient as possible for growers to donate by offering multiple drop-off locations, while others have volunteers who will pick up donated food from your porch. Some research on your local options will lead you in the best direction.

One of the biggest efforts to connect home gardeners with their local food collection systems is Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR). This is a public service program created by The Association for Garden Communicators (GWA) and its GWA Foundation, which encourages people to grow an extra row of food in their gardens specifically for donations. Since 1995, PAR has supported volunteer committees across the country to develop community gardens, providing training throughout the process. It has also assisted local food collection systems and monitored the volume of donations they received from these communities. Since 2011, PAR accounts for nearly 2 million pounds of donated fresh food annually.

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