Friday, February 24, 2012

Staving Off Hunger One Garden at a Time its impact on Hunger in America

By Gary Oppenheimer Founder
CNN Hero

According to a 2009 study by the National Gardening Association and Scotts Seed Company, more than 40 million American grow fruit, herbs and vegetables in home gardens – and that number is increasing.  These gardeners, given good soil, access to water, lots of sun, and a little bit of luck, typically wait for months for their crops to start bearing fruit.  Once they start the harvest, they use, preserve and share the bounty... but the squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. keep on coming and from personal experience, I can tell you that there are only so many cucumbers you can give to friends and still have them call you a friend.  While some gardeners compost the excess produce, many others simply let it rot in the garden or worse, throw it into the trash, adding to the waste stream and causing the release of methane gas as it decomposes - contributing to climate change.

According to the USDA, more than 50 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 50 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 may be your neighbors.  Or you may be one of them yourself.

In late 2008, the members of the 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 that 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.

In May 2009, a nationwide program called the Campaign was created to enable gardeners who grow fruit, vegetables, herbs or nuts to share their excess harvest with a local food pantry – easily found at or at the free AmpleHarvest iPhone or Android apps.

Backed by Google Inc. and the US Department of Agriculture, more than 4,700 food pantries across all 50 states can now receive garden fresh produce from local backyard gardeners who use  In August 2011, was highlighted on the White House web site (

This one of a kind program has garnered an enthusiastic response nationwide.  For example, the Community Resources Center Food Pantry (California) reported:

 Within one hour of registering Community Resource Center 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 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”

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 in the Huffington Post, the more fresh produce people have access to, the lower our national long-term health care costs will be.  Lastly... by helping to feed our neighbors in our community instead of throwing the excess away, we both reduce the waste stream and we reduce the out of pocket costs needed to keep people from going hungry.  All this because an ample harvest was given to a pantry and not wasted.

The Campaign has been successful largely due to help and support from people in communities across America... and you can help too!  As more food pantries learn about it and sign up, more gardeners across the country will be able to share their ample harvest, and garden by garden, hunger in America will be diminished.

  • If you know of a food pantry in your community, possibly in your house of worship, a local YMCA or other civic location please visit to learn how you can help your local food pantry benefit from the Campaign.
  • If you belong to a community organization, please share with the other members, information about and urge them to share the information with their network of friends and family nationwide.
  • Urge your local print and electronic media outlets to consider reporting on  Press information is available at
  • If you grow food in a home garden and harvest more than you can use, preserve or give away, please use or our iPhone or Android app to find a local pantry eager for your excess harvest
  • If you belong to a community garden or CSA, please let the other members know that they can donate excess food.
  • Print the flier to learn about how you can help nursery/garden shop customers learn more about

One out of every six Americans are hungry. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Visit to learn more.

No comments:

Post a Comment