The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteers Program is asking gardeners to consider growing extra produce to donate to local food pantries.

“Many pantries have trouble offering fresh produce to their clients, and this is a great way to share your garden’s bounty,” said Barbara Murphy, extension educator in the Oxford County office and coordinator of the highly successful Maine Harvest for Hunger Program.

The program coordinates volunteers, helps them connect with local food pantries and provides advice about what to grow and when to harvest. In 2010, the program provided more than 200,000 pounds of produce to Maine food pantries. The goal for 2011 is 225,000 pounds.

Some gardeners find it helpful to dedicate a part of their garden for donation to the food pantry. That might be a row of carrots or half the patch of winter squash. Others prefer to donate produce that they won’t use, but that is still of good quality. Still others volunteer to help glean farmer’s fields at the end of the harvest season. Either way works.

Murphy suggests that gardeners contact their local food pantries in advance to find out what type of produce they need, or don’t need, and what they can handle. This will help them know what to plant and deliver. Carrots, potatoes, onions and winter squash are all relatively easy for the pantries to store and handle. Since many food pantries have limited hours, gardeners may want to find out when they can deliver produce.

Those gardeners who have no space for a garden may be able to work with others in a community garden to grow produce for a local food pantry. Contact a local pantry directly about volunteering.

To help reach the goal of 225,000 pounds of donated produce this year, enroll in the Maine Harvest for Hunger program; visit http://umaine.edu/harvest-for-hunger or in Franklin County call Lauren St. Germain, 778-4650, 800-287-1478).


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