Home gardeners can help the hungry by donating some harvest

  • This sign, photographed April 29, 2020, near Langley, Wash., is soliciting volunteers to help cultivate edibles at a giving garden that has been set aside exclusively for donations of freshly picked produce to food banks, meal programs and shelters. (Dean Fosdick via AP)

  • These freshly picked pears, photographed Aug. 25, 2015, in a home orchard near Langley, Wash., were donated to a local food bank where they were reported to be extremely popular with its clients. Food pantries often only have access to contributions of canned fruits and vegetables. (Dean Fosdick/via AP)

Gardening’s popularity has surged during the coronavirus pandemic; it provides exercise, outdoor time, emotional well-being and wholesome produce. Home gardening also can provide some hunger relief to others during a time of rising food insecurity.

Many home gardeners are donating portions of their freshly picked harvests to food banks, meal programs and shelters.


Some are cultivating “giving gardens” set aside for donations. These plots are weighted toward long-term storage crops like carrots and winter squash or nutrient-dense potatoes and beans.

“When gardeners are able to donate a steady supply of fresh produce, it can make a big difference for neighbors in need,” said Christie Kane, a spokeswoman for Gardener’s Supply Company in Burlington, Vermont.

The nation’s overburdened food pantries generally only have access to canned fruits and vegetables, she said.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, an estimated 37.2 million people or 11.1% of all U.S. households lacked reliable access to enough food for a healthy standard of living, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. Now, joblessness and lost wages due to the COVID-19 outbreak are forcing millions more to choose between food and other essentials.

“Stay-at-home orders have been a boon for gardening since they give people added hours to go out and work in relative safety,” said Gary Oppenheimer, founder and executive director of AmpleHarvest.org, an organization that helps gardeners find food pantries eager to obtain freshly picked crops for their clients.

“Millions more are planting, a great many more are enjoying healthier foods and still more are contributing,” Oppenheimer said.

Make safety a priority when harvesting homegrown produce, especially if you’re sharing it with others, he said.

“Call the local food pantry ahead of time to schedule your drop. Wear gloves. Step back 6 feet from anyone when delivering food. Add nutrition to the community but do it in such a way that people don’t get harmed in the process,” Oppenheimer said.


Be choosy about where you make your contributions, he said: “Verify that they’re legitimate, that they’re nonprofit and give away their food for free.”

Look to churches, municipalities or groups like AmpleHarvest.org for lists of recognized food programs.

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