Planning a Giving Garden

published on 06 February 2023

Love trying out new veggies in your home garden? Looking for a new way to support your community? Donating homegrown produce is a wonderful way to turn your passion into purpose! 

The Giving Garden at Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota
The Giving Garden at Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota

Why donate homegrown produce?

Donating homegrown produce for local hunger relief is a meaningful way to strengthen bonds with your community. While food pantries source much of their produce from local stores, farms and food banks, making homegrown produce available builds community connections and lets community members know their neighbors care. 

What should I grow for donation?

Oftentimes, gardeners simply share the extra bounty from the plants they’re growing for themselves. Some gardeners like to take it another step, planting specific fruits and vegetables with the intention to share. Here are some things to consider when planting to give.

Certainly, the basics like tomatoes, cucumber, and zucchini (of a reasonable size!) are generally very welcome at local food pantries. (See our list of most-requested items.) But your particular hunger relief provider may have some particular needs that home gardeners could uniquely help to address. We recommend reaching out directly to your local hunger relief organization to ask about produce that would be especially appropriate for your community. 

2023 Most-Requested Produce for Food Pantries

Please keep in mind, our partners are overwhelmingly appreciative of any and all produce. 

As a starting point, we asked our national network of hunger relief partners to tell us more about the types of garden produce donations that their communities request. Here’s what they said:

Our hunger relief partners shared that the most requested garden produce items sought by their participants are Tomatoes, Greens, and Fruit. These are often expensive to purchase, but also store well and can be used in many ways.

Things to consider in selecting foods to grow

Shelf stable: Many of our hunger relief partners do not have refrigerators on-site. Additionally, their participants may be living in shared housing, or unhoused, and may also not have access to refrigeration. Shelf stable produce like onions, garlic, potatoes, winter squash and tree fruits can make fresh produce more accessible to your community.

Higher cost items: Food dollars are already stretched, which means families will forego fruits and vegetables that cost more at the store. Berries and cherry tomatoes are great examples of fruits that families may forego at the store, but would be very welcomed. Herbs are another item that is so crucial to making meals feel whole, but can be too expensive to buy at the store. A pot of mint, basil, thyme or oregano can keep giving all season long!

No-cooking-needed: Produce that can be cooked quickly and/or eaten raw is very valuable to members of the community with limited access to food preparation and cooking facilities. Some examples include cucumber, carrots, and fruit. Items that can be cooked quickly or eaten raw can help our communities stay healthy while recognizing busy lives and non-traditional living spaces.

Culturally relevant foods:  Our hunger relief partners support communities from many different cultures. Contact your local hunger relief partner to find out what would be appropriate for cultures in your community.  For example, our partner Project Worthmore has put together this list of culturally relevant foods based on the preferences of people in their community. Your community may be especially appreciative of produce such as Asian leafy greens, tomatillos, hot peppers, or green onions. 

Timing: Once you've decided what to grow, consider succession planting, so you have a bounty to share throughout the harvest season!

Preparing to donate your homegrown produce

When it’s time to harvest, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Our partners and program participants understand that the produce is coming straight from the garden and are okay with produce that looks a little different. If it has some cracks or unique shapes, no problem.  
  2. If you wouldn’t eat it, please don’t donate it. Maybe add it to your compost pile, if it’s moldy or has aphids.
  3. If you’re donating summer squash, most organizations would appreciate it being smaller than your forearm. While gardeners know how quickly zucchinis grow, large squash do become challenging to cook and eat.
  4. Consider donating herbs. Herbs are hard for our partners to procure and are a great way to keep food healthy and flavorful!
  5. Plan to donate throughout the growing season and share a variety of produce items. 
  6. We want our community members to be able to enjoy freshly grown produce by taking away the financial barrier while also providing a dignified experience.

Growing and donating your own produce is a simple yet effective way to make a positive impact in your community. Whether you are providing access to fresh, healthy food, fostering community connections, or promoting sustainable living, the act of growing and sharing your own produce can make a significant difference in the lives of those around you. So, why not start growing your own food today and share the bounty with those in need?

What if every gardener plants just one extra plant to share?

One small donation can have a tremendous impact. Just imagine, if every gardener planted one extra plant to share, collectively, we would have an abundant source of fresh, healthy produce available to be distributed to families experiencing food insecurity in our own communities! The Fresh Food Connect app manages and tracks your donation of homegrown produce, so you can focus on growing your garden, and they can focus on serving the community. Learn more about Fresh Food Connect and download the app to share your garden produce for hunger relief.

Extra Resources: 

Have you ever wondered how to grow a certain plant? When should I start sowing and planting? Do I plant indoors or outdoors? How much sunlight does the plant need? Is it a warm-season crop or cool-season crop? How many days until harvest? To answer some of these questions, we created a list of resources that we hope you find informative. 

The 2023 Vegetable Planting Calendar

Knowing the time when growing conditions are considered most favorable can be beneficial to your crops. The 2023 Vegetable Planting Calendar can provide you with planting dates based on your specific zip code.

Herb Gardening

Herb Gardening is a great website for learning more about different types of herbs, planting guides, and ways to utilize them. 

Find your Local Cooperative Extension

Most counties within the United States have an extension office of some type that works closely with gardening experts to provide information about gardening in your local area. Because where you live can affect how and when you grow plants, it's important to know how to locate your local extension service so that you know where to go when you have questions. So whether you're starting a vegetable garden, choosing appropriate plants, or needing pest control tips, this page will help you find the nearest Cooperative Extension Service expert for all your gardening needs.

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