AmpleHarvest.org: Gardeners Diminishing Hunger in America

Gary Oppenheimer, AmpleHarvest.org Founder
Master Gardener & Community Garden Director

43 Million Americans Grow Food

According to a 2009 study by the National Gardening Association, 43 million Americans grow fruit, herbs and vegetables in home gardens while others rent plots in a nearby community garden. They start their growing season getting the soil ready, planting their seeds or store bought seedlings, weeding and watering every week… and then they wait for the first opportunity to enjoy their garden bounty. Some gardeners struggle to get a small handful of produce out of their garden (these gardeners should contact their local Cooperative Extension office for assistance from a Master Gardener). Many others, blessed with good soil, adequate water, lots of sun and a little bit of luck end up growing an abundance that is far in excess of what they can use, preserve or give away. I can tell you from my own personal experience that there are only so many cucumbers you can give to friends and still have them call you a friend.

 

49 Million Americans Are Hungry

Statistics from the US Department of Agriculture reveal 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. After hearing numbers like billions and trillions thrown about by government officials, it is somewhat easy to start to think that 49 million is not all *that* big after all.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 hungry or nearly hungry people. Some of those people live in your town. Some may be your neighbors. Or you may be one of them yourself.

Ample Harvest Began Connecting with Food Pantries in 2008

In late 2008, the members of the Sustainable 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 called Ample Harvest West Milford. This program 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.

AmpleHarvest.org Internet Resources and iPhone app

While this program was coming into creation, a nationwide Internet version called AmpleHarvest.org was created under a non-profit organization and rolled out on May 18, 2009. The web site educates, encourages and enables gardeners who grow fruit, vegetables or herbs to enjoy, preserve and share their harvest with friends and neighbors, and then donate the excess with a local food pantry – easily found at www.AmpleHarvest.org, or using the free AmpleHarvest iPhone app. Gardeners can also follow the latest AmpleHarvest.org updates on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/AmpleHarvest

Providing fresh produce to local food pantries offers a number of benefits to both the recipient as well as the community. Not only is fresh produce healthier than canned (no excess salt or sugar in the diet) goods, it tastes a lot better, has a much smaller carbon footprint, and has eye appeal too. Children, given the opportunity to enjoy fresh veggies are more likely to eat a healthier diet as they get older. According to an article about AmpleHarvest.org in the Huffington Post, the more fresh produce people have access to, the lower our national long-term health care costs will be. Furthermore, gardeners who simply throw away their excess produce contribute to global warming as each pound of decomposing produce in a trash dump creates a pound of methane – a global warming gas 20 times worse than CO2. Lastly, by helping to nourish neighbors in a community with this excess bounty, we both reduce the waste stream and we reduce the out of pocket costs needed to keep people from going hungry. All this without spending a dime because an ample harvest was given to a pantry and not wasted.

Backed and supported by the US Department of Agriculture, Google.com, National Gardening Association, and many faith and service organizations, AmpleHarvest.org helps nearly 1,800 (and increasing daily) food pantries across all 50 states receive garden fresh produce from local backyard gardeners. Please visit www.AmpleHarvest.org to learn more about the campaign.

You can help diminish hunger in your community and throughout America in a number of ways:

  1. Share this information with your network of friends and family across the country – especially backyard, patio and kitchen gardeners – as well as CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members who may occasionally receive more produce than they can personally use.
  2. Share http://www.ampleharvest.org/downloads/pantry.pdf with a food pantry in your community. As 70% of all food pantries are in houses of worship, reach out to your friends in the faith community to ask them to help get a pantry registered.
  3. Ask your local garden shop/nursery to help their customers learn about AmpleHarvest.org by posting the flyer at http://www.ampleharvest.org/InformingTheGardener.php .
  4. Let the local media (print and electronic) know about the AmpleHarvest.org Campaign. Press/media information is available at http://www.ampleharvest.org/press.php.
  5. Join the growing network of AmpleHarvest.org volunteers nationwide who help spread the word about AmpleHarvest.org (both to food pantries and gardeners) in their own communities. Please email info@AmpleHarvest.org for additional information.
  6. Most importantly, if you are a backyard, patio or kitchen gardener, please be generous with your excess harvest. You are one of 43 million gardeners in America who, garden by garden, can diminish hunger in your community.

Times are tough. The AmpleHarvest.org Campaign enables people to help their neighbors in need by reaching into their backyards instead of their back pockets. One out of every six Americans are hungry. It doesn’t have to be that way.

3 Responses to “AmpleHarvest.org: Gardeners Diminishing Hunger in America”

  1. Karla Kean says:

    This is so cool! It is so much like what we are doing with the Garden of Hope project in Clarksville, TN

  2. Sarah says:

    Within one hour of registering Community Resource Center (Encinitas, CA) 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 Ample Harvest 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.

  3. Bill Hoffman says:

    Gary,
    What you’ve accomplished with http://www.ampleharvest.org is really impressive. Master gardeners everywhere should be proud to count you as a member of their group.
    Regards,
    Bill Hoffman
    USDA/NIFA