Plenty: Share the Bounty

Think outside the supermarket to help feed the hungry.

By Nancy Rutman


Gardeners have always been proud to share their excess produce with the needy, and they’ve found some creative ways to do it. Now farmers, community groups, and employers are also joining forces to fight hunger in America. Read on for inspiration.

food bankGifts from the Garden
Neighbors can handle only so many of our zucchini. A “produce exchange” at church, school, or work is a great way to distribute the harvest. This could be as simple as a table in a common area where people bring what they have and take what they need. Volunteers deliver the unclaimed produce to a community food bank, shelter, or soup kitchen. Gardeners can harness the energies of neighbors with gardens to form a neighborhood produce exchange. Or take it to an even higher level by listing produce at The Farmer’s Garden—a virtual bulletin board where members can buy, sell, trade, or donate fruits and vegetables. The Gallatin Empire Garden Club in Bozeman, Montana, raises and sells produce at the Bozeman Farmer’s Market. Unsold produce is donated to the Gallatin County Food Bank, and all proceeds support community projects.

Those who live in high-traffic areas can offer their produce to passersby. A curbside table full of produce labeled “Free” will always have customers. New Zealand gardener Diana Noonan went a step further and created a small roadside garden in the unused strip between her property fence and the street, then posted signs telling people to pick whatever they wanted. Passing cyclists are especially appreciative of Noonan’s “gift garden.” Organic Gardening reader Amy Estel Scioli tried a similar experiment, planting a “friendly neighbor” garden in her not-so-friendly neighborhood in the hopes that free berries and tomatoes would cheer someone up.

Gardeners who have the space can join with the Garden Writers Association Foundation and Plant a Row for the Hungry. Simply weigh any extra produce, donate it to charity, and then report the total pounds delivered. Volunteers have donated 14 million pounds of herbs and vegetables through this program since 1995. Food Banks Canada sponsors a similar effort, called Plant a Row Grow a Row. Note: Smaller food pantries are often unable to accept donations of perishable foods because they lack refrigerated storage. Faith communities and nonprofit groups can help by raising funds for the purchase of coolers and freezers. In the meantime, helps gardeners and farmers find a pantry that accepts fruit and vegetables. Inexpensive, easy-to-prepare recipes make a thoughtful addition to a basket of donated produce.

Besides fruits and vegetables, seedling starts and seeds are often welcomed by community gardens and food banks. They can be used to grow food for clients or given directly to the clients so they can start their own gardens. Cooperative Extension agents also appreciate donated seeds for use in education programs. Be sure to label the seeds with the variety and date.