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Glean Your Garden and Share Thanksgiving the Old-Fashioned Way
by Erika Jensen - November 2013

This fall as I’m putting my garden to bed, I will clean out my large vegetable garden and donate the extras to a food pantry. It’s a rich selection of winter squash, onions, carrots and potatoes. To me, this is sharing Thanksgiving the old-fashioned way. It doesn’t take any food off my own plate, and I get to help others.

My local pantry is the Salvation Army of Fond du Lac, Wis., an organization that serves around 1,000 families monthly. Visitors have the opportunity to choose up to three fruits or vegetables daily.

“Throughout the Upper Midwest, Salvation Army pantries encourage donations of fresh produce, particularly in the summertime. It’s difficult for our clients to afford some of these items,” said Denise Shaffer, community development director. Shaffer added that the pantries prefer to have vegetables washed and ready for pick up.

“It helps us when vegetables are presentable. It’s important that the vegetables look good. This helps our client’s self-esteem, because it reinforces the message that they are important and deserve good food,” Shaffer said.   

Garden Gleaning: A Toolkit for Growers and Food Shelves

This new publication, produced by the Garden Gleaning Taskforce of Hennepin County, Minnesota, is available free online at www.gardengleaning.org. It’s designed to help you understand how food shelves work and encourages collaborations between food pantries and gardeners. You’ll find guidelines for food safety, how to pack garden produce and how to develop a food donation system for your community garden.

In recent years, many food pantries have seen a marked increase in demand from their local communities. This puts added pressure on the nonprofit organizations that serve the hungry.

“We have lots of new families visiting the Salvation Army, and the elderly, or those with disabilities, will probably always need a food pantry subsidy. At the same time, lots of people have passed the point where they need assistance but they continue to volunteer to help others,” said Shaffer.

Another program that provides food to those in need is Meals on Wheels. Chances are there’s a Meals on Wheels program near you, many of which accept produce. To find your local program, visit the Meals on Wheels Association of America, and use their ZIP code locator.

Kelly Heyn, executive director of Fresh Meals on Wheels in Sheboygan, Wis., works closely with local farmers and gardeners.

“Fresh Meals on Wheels has been feeding people for 43 years. Recently we decided that we wanted our clients to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, just like they’d cook for themselves,” Heyn said. The organization worked with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and set up a processing facility in a new building so it could take locally grown produce from gardeners and farmers and prepare it safely.

“People come to our door every day with big trucks and little buckets. It’s so much fun,” said Heyn.

Fresh Meals on Wheels receives an awesome donation of produce from a volunteer.1

In September my car was full of flowers when I donated 35 table arrangements and two larger arrangements for Bike the Barns. Proceeds from the event support the Partner Shares program, which funds Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to low-income households.2

Mainstream vegetables, such as tomatoes and potatoes, are the ones most in demand. The organization has purchased a potato peeler so it could make real mashed potatoes.

“They didn’t want something out of a box. Mashed potatoes are not gourmet and not obscure. It’s just what people want to eat,” said Heyn.     

The program even accepts donations of flowers.

“Our volunteers can deliver flowers to clients, and they love them. One of our local greenhouses delivers poinsettias during the holiday season to every one of our clients,” said Heyn. The flowers raise people’s spirits and help them take on the day.

Plant a Row Program

PAR volunteer Fred Henson delivers a load of produce from a community garden to Capt. Susan Ramsey of the Salvation Army.
The Plant a Row (PAR) Program, sponsored by the Garden Writers Association Foundation, encourages gardeners to plant an extra row of vegetables to donate to their local food pantries. Since 1995, gardeners in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin have donated 1,545,711 pounds of produce. Michigan and Wisconsin were very involved in PAR from the early years and have made strong contributions.

For information on how to become involved in your area, contact the PAR office at 877-492-2727, or visit www.gardenwriters.org for more resources. The website for Feeding America http://feedingamerica.org/ has a ZIP code lookup function so you can find your nearest PAR partner agency. gardenwriters.org/gwa.php?p=par/donation_sites.html


1. Photo courtesy of Fresh Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan, Wis.
2. Photo courtesy of Erika Jensen


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