Donate excess produce from your garden to food banks and food pantries

Many Michigan food banks and food pantries welcome donations of fresh produce from gardeners.

Produce for donation. Photo credit: Katelyn Vinson, Kalamazoo Valley Community College

Produce for donation. Photo credit: Katelyn Vinson, Kalamazoo Valley Community College

If you are like many gardeners in Michigan, at times you have had zucchini coming out of your ears and enough tomatoes to feed a small army. Maybe you have frozen and canned all that your freezer and pantry could handle, given generous amounts to friends and neighbors and still had plenty to spare. Did you know that many Michigan food banks and food pantries welcome donations of fresh produce from gardens? This solution prevents food waste while providing fresh, nutritious food to families experiencing food insecurity.

Community gardens, school gardens, home gardens and orchards can provide safe and delicious fresh food to food banks and food pantries. The Michigan Fresh program from Michigan State University Extension encourages Michigan residents to use local foods and to try growing some of their own. Gardeners can support their community’s use of local food by donating some of their harvest to food banks and food pantries. Campaigns such as the Garden Writers Association’s Plant a Row for the Hungry encourage gardeners to designate space in their gardens to grow food for donation, in addition to donating excess produce.

Emergency food assistance programs facilitated by food banks and food pantries play a critical role in Michigan’s food system. One in ten people in Michigan, over 1.1 million people, use emergency food assistance programs each year.

Though you may hear the terms “food bank” and “food pantry” used interchangeably, food banks are organizations that warehouse and distribute donated food, while food pantries are agencies that directly provide food assistance to families.

To find an organization in your area that accepts produce donations from gardens:

  • Search for food banks and food pantries online and in your local phone directory
  • Contact local community service agencies and faith-based organizations
  • Visit the Michigan Association of United Ways at uwmich.org

Be sure to call at least one day before making a delivery to make sure that they can accept your donation and to ask about their preferred delivery days and times.

It’s important to offer only high-quality, safely-handled produce to food pantries. Many individuals served by food banks and food pantries are at high risk for foodborne illness, including children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems due to illness and chronic disease. According to the 2014 Hunger in America study, 39 percent of surveyed households receiving charitable food assistance included at least one child, 33 percent included seniors and 24 percent had at least one person in poor health.

Here are a few tips to minimize food safety risks when donating produce:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water before handling produce.
  • If pesticides were used on the product, be absolutely certain that you have followed the instructions on the pesticide label for application and safe harvest times. If you are unsure, discard the produce in the garbage—do not compost, eat or donate it.
  • Inspect each item of produce carefully. Discard any items that have signs of insects, bruising, mold, or spoilage. If you wouldn’t buy it, toss it!
  • Brush off as much mud and soil as possible from the produce.
  • Only use clean, food-grade containers or bags to store and transport produce.
  • Keep different types of produce separate.
  • Visit the Fresh Fruits, Vegetables and Juices page of Foodsafety.gov for more information.

MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh program encourages the purchase and use of locally grown foods. Download a free reference fact sheets on Donating Produce and Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables along with other free fact sheets on food safety, food preservation and Michigan-grown products.

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