According to a 2009 study, more than 40 million American grow fruit, herbs and vegetables in home gardens – and that number is increasing. These gardeners, given good soil, access to water, lots of sun, and a little bit of luck, typically wait for months for their crops to start bearing fruit. Once they start the harvest, they use, preserve and share the bounty... but the squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other fruits and vegetables keep on coming, and from personal experience, I can tell you that there are only so many cucumbers you can give to friends if you still want them call you a friend. While some gardeners compost the excess produce, many others simply let it rot in the garden or worse, throw it into the trash.
According to 2009 statistics from the USDA, 49 million Americans are food insecure – a fancy way of saying people either do not have enough food or they are at real risk of not having enough food for their families. To put it in perspective, if you took the combined populations of 23 of our 50 states: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia and added together, you’d have around 49 million people—the same number who are hungry or nearly hungry.
In late 2008, the members of the West Milford, NJ Community Garden, unhappy with the fact that the excess food they grew in past years was often left to rot in the garden while people in the community were going hungry, created a program that gathered the excess garden bounty, sorted and then distributed it to several food pantries in West Milford. The gardeners reported a great deal of personal satisfaction knowing that they were making an important contribution to the welfare of the community while also pursuing the sustainability goal of zero waste. At the same time, food pantries, which typically only have canned fruit and vegetables available, reported that this garden fresh produce was being taken by clients almost as fast as it became available.
In May 2009, a nationwide program called the AmpleHarvest.org Campaign was created to enable gardeners who grow fruit, vegetables, herbs or nuts to share their excess harvest with a local food pantry. More than 2,500 food pantries across all 50 states can now receive garden fresh produce from local backyard gardeners who use AmpleHarvest.org.
This one of a kind program has garnered an enthusiastic response nationwide. For example, the Community Resources Center Food Pantry in California reported:
Within one hour of registering Community Resource Center on the Ample Harvest website I received a call from a local family of four with 10 orange trees. I spoke with the mother of the family and she said that until she heard of AmpleHarvest.org her family was spending time cleaning up rotten fruit off the ground. Now her family can spend time harvesting fruit to give to low income families in their community. Since speaking with her, she has dropped off 8 large bags full of locally grown oranges.
Providing fresh produce to local food pantries offers a number of benefits to both the recipient as and the community. Children, given the opportunity to enjoy fresh veggies are more likely to eat a healthier diet as they get older and by helping to feed our neighbors in our community instead of throwing the excess away, we both reduce the waste stream and the out of pocket costs needed to keep people from going hungry. All this because an ample harvest was given to a pantry and not wasted.
The AmpleHarvest.org Campaign has been successful largely due to help and support from people in communities across America... and you can help too! As more food pantries learn about it and sign up, more gardeners across the country will be able to share their ample harvest, and garden by garden, hunger in America will be diminished.
One out of every six Americans is hungry. It doesn’t have to be that way—get involved today!
Gary Oppenheimer is the founder of AmpleHarvest.org.
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