How Denver gardeners can support food security by donating produce

It is time to plan how and what to donate from your upcoming harvest to help reduce food insecurity in our local communities. It’s never been easier for gardeners to be intentional by giving or committing to share a part of the garden harvest this summer.

Whether you are container gardening, patio planting or have a larger garden, any amount of produce can be used by local hunger-relief organizations. Donating produce builds and serves the local community, reduces climate impact, and supports the right to healthy food for everyone.

Why grow and donate

Hunger and food access problems continue to grow. According to Feeding America, the pandemic increased food insecurity in Colorado by about 20%. Hunger Free Colorado found that 33% of Coloradans lack reliable access to nutritious food. Another way to look at that is 1 in 8 Coloradans face food shortages, or 1 in 4 children face food insecurity.

Additionally, about 40% of our food goes to waste, according to the National Resource Defense Council. Reducing food waste and donating more food are two of the main goals in the Denver Food Vision.

Individual gardeners can make a difference now, and know that people in their neighborhoods are supported with their produce. It is all about the power of collective action through individual gardeners.

How to donate

Something that actually got easier during the pandemic is how to donate produce, thanks to an active partnership between CSU’s Colorado Master Gardener Grow & Give Program and Fresh Food Connect, a tech-based non-profit. These programs give gardeners a conduit to easily donate produce.

Planting food in community gardens such as this one in Burlington? Donate any extra produce to alleviate food insecurity. (RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file)
Planting food in community gardens such as this one in Burlington? Donate any extra produce to alleviate food insecurity. (RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file)

Fresh Food Connect works by mobile and web app; it’s free and easy to use. Kayla Birdsong, the CEO of Fresh Food Connect, wants residents to know “how easy and rewarding it is for gardeners to know that their food makes a difference in people’s lives.” After putting in a zip code, it connects gardeners to operators in their own area who will accept donations of any amount. This system is set up so that food stays local and goes where it is needed the most.

This allows gardeners to do their thing growing and nonprofits to do theirs by serving those in need.

Currently, the program works with 22 partners in Colorado to cover much of the Denver and Boulder areas. If you don’t find an operator in your neighborhood, Fresh Food Connect is interested in expanding to other nonprofits across the Front Range, so reach out and let them know who might help.

Anyone can add their garden to the Grow & Give program if you have intent to grow for others. Registering your garden online is easy by signing up for 2022. Check out their interactive donation map, too.

What to grow and donate

Any and all garden produce is wanted, including “a couple pounds of tomatoes and a little bit of kale, as the whole idea is the power of collective action,” says Birdsong. If you’re a nerdy gardener like me, though, you might want to know some trends and needs.

The 2021 results from the Grow & Give Program showed that 704 registered gardens across 32 counties donated more than 55,290 pounds of produce. Of that, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes and cucumbers were the top-donated produce. But peppers, leafy greens and beans were popular, too. Fresh Food Connect reported their top most-requested vegetables last year were tomatoes, peppers, onion, lettuce, carrots, garlic and fruit.

Other vegetables ideas for gardeners who want to contribute but have not started planting would be different herbs, leafy greens  and lettuces. Many of those have shorter growing seasons and can be started from seed in many types of containers. Or, for an early fall harvest, plant beets, radishes and greens next month. Ultimately, most donations last year came in August and September, reinforcing that there is time to participate in growing food to support food security this year.

Food access and security is also about culturally relevant produce, which increases the need for fresh produce over canned foods or pre-packaged food. Culturally responsive gardening means growing food that reflects local community cultures and diverse preferences. Food Bank of the Rockies developed a list of preferences for the seven most prevalent cultures in their service area, with the top foods across cultures lining up with the trends above. Some specific examples are cilantro; greens (collard, mustard, turnip); varieties of squash other than the ubiquitous zucchini; potatoes; and tomatillos.

Keep in mind, though, that any and all amounts and types of food are wanted. Food pantries have a harder time storing fresh foods,  so connecting systems like these address the gap of fresh homegrown garden produce and allows individuals to contribute to their communities. All you have to do is get the app or online forms ready so that as you harvest this summer, you set aside a portion to donate.

Imagine how great this will be when you get that bumper crop of zucchini.

Finally, as those coveted seed catalogs come in this winter, plan to add extra plants to commit to donating next year. That way you can do a little this summer and a lot more next year.

 

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Barbara G. Arnold

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