Hunger relief organizations provide a sustainable and accessible source of food for many families experiencing food insecurity. According to Feeding America, in 2020 over 60 million people turned to food banks and community programs for help putting food on the table. However, these programs have a hard time procuring and stocking fresh and healthy options, including produce. When communities do not have access to healthy options, there is an increased risk of adverse health outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.
What can gardeners do to increase healthy food access locally?
At Fresh Food Connect, we believe gardeners have the potential to join the fight against hunger and food insecurity. How, you ask? You can increase the amount of nutritious and culturally relevant foods in your own community, by simply growing and sharing your extra produce.
Why is fresh garden produce important to include in hunger relief?
- Gardeners can grow items that hunger relief programs might not get otherwise
- It can be a way to use food that would be composted or left rotting on the vine, or gifted to those who don’t need it
- Produce picked ripe is at its nutritional peak
Why donate culturally relevant foods?
Food is such an important part of culture and if recipients are given food they do not have cultural knowledge around, that food will often be wasted and hunger will persist. For example, many Burmese refugees have grown up with fresh ingredients and are not familiar with canned goods. By celebrating our communities, we can support their nutritional needs and reduce food insecurity. Culturally relevant foods:
- Increase feelings of belonging and inclusion among migrant families
- Positively impact dietary behaviors
- Provide a wider variety of food options for recipients
- Decrease food waste
- We believe cultural fit is a key component of food access that is sometimes overlooked. If something is not culturally relevant, it often is not used
What type of produce should gardeners grow and donate?
We asked our hunger relief organization partners to tell us more about the type of produce that their communities request. Based on the responses, we compiled a list of the most requested fruits and vegetables, located below. We also encourage you to contact your local operator to ask them directly what they would like to see donated. Please keep in mind, our partners are overwhelmingly appreciative to get any and all produce. We hope you are inspired by this list to plant something new or grow a little extra to donate in your community.
We do recognize all of these items might not fit into your growing climates. For items that you enjoy growing, plant some extra or if you’re looking for a challenge, try planting something new to you. For shorter growing seasons, look for smaller varieties that will mature quicker. If these items are new to you, check out this basic guide on planting your seeds.
Things to Consider When Donating Your Freshly Grown Produce
- Our operating partners (hunger relief organizations that use our app) 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Consider donating herbs. Herbs are hard for our partners to procure and are a great way to keep food healthy and flavorful!
- Plan to donate throughout the growing season and share a variety of produce items.
- 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.
What if every gardener planted 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 free Fresh Food Connect mobile app connects you to a local hunger relief program, then manages and tracks your donations of homegrown produce throughout the season. Download the app today!