Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (EMGVs) throughout the US and Canada, EMGVs make direct donations to food pantries and other organizations, participate in community gardens, and work in their local communities to help families gain knowledge and skills to grow some of their own food.
Fresh Produce Donated by the Thousands
Nationally, Extension Master Gardener Volunteers have been estimated to contribute over 685,000 pounds of produce to local food banks in 26 states.
Extension Master Gardener Volunteers work together with neighboring counties, associations, local government, and other partners to deliver these kinds of results. Here are some examples at the local level in Wisconsin, where county MG associations have donated an amazing amount of fresh produce:
- Racine-Kenosha MG Association’s Garden of Giving provided over 10,000 pounds of produce for area food pantries.
- St. Croix Valley EMGVs raised almost 5,000 pounds of produce in the New Richmond Community Garden, while MGs of the North (Oneida Co.) donated 4,500 pounds of produce.
- Southeast Wisconsin MGA, maintaining four gardens, produced over 4,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables for Waukesha and Milwaukee Co. food pantries.
- North Country MGA (Burnett, Sawyer and Washburn counties) also donated over 4,000 pounds of produce from the Spooner Agriculture Research Station Display Garden, as well as additional produce from other area gardens.
Matching food pantries to food surplus
In most counties there is an existing system of food pantries and excess food distribution systems that EMGVs have linked to and encourage others to tap into. But large amounts of garden produce are left unharvested every year when people grow more than they can possibly use and they are unaware of where they can donate it. Many locations for donating excess produce are not easy to find, as they don’t have their own website or have a yellow page listing.
The AmpleHarvest.org Campaign is a nationwide effort to educate, encourage and enable gardeners with extra produce to easily donate to a local food pantry, bank, shelves, closet or cupboard. This website lists food pantries in a central nationwide directory so that gardeners can share their fresh produce and, garden-by-garden, help diminish hunger in America. Visit AmpleHarvest.org to find or register your local food pantry!
Community Gardens Thrive with EMG Support
With the economy and growing awareness of healthy eating, more people than ever are growing their own food. All across the nation, community gardens encourage individuals to become more self-sufficient by producing some of their own food, and numerous EMGVs are involved with creating, developing and maintaining many of these community gardens. For example, EMGVs maintain the Washington Co. (Wisconsin) Community Gardens in West Bend, where people can rent plots in order to have their own gardens. The success of the gardens is measured both in pounds of produce and personal stories. Many gardeners gain from physical exercise, experience a greater degree of emotional and psychological well-being, or are helped to make the difficult transition to life in a new city. In 2009 over 3,000 pound of produce was grown, with approximately 700 pounds donated to the local food pantry. In another part of Wisconsin, the Waupaca Community Garden, planted on property owned by the Waupaca School District, is used as an outdoor class room for a number of disciplines, but also produced several tons of food that was distributed to a food pantry, weekly community meal program, veterans assisted living, and more.
Finding a Community Garden Near You
Looking for the nearest community garden near you? The American Community Gardening Association, provides support and information to those engaged in community gardening. You can find your nearest community garden on the website, connect with other gardeners, and find lots of information on organizing a community garden, growing vegetables, and more.
Gardening Education Builds Self Confidence and Sustainability
As tough economic times continue to pinch people’s budgets, learning ways to grow produce, conserve water and eat healthier will help people get through difficult times. Since growing and donating produce only fulfills an immediate need, Extension Master Gardener Volunteers also tend to become involved in educational efforts focused on food security and adequate nutrition.
This spring EMGVs are offering more seminars for the general public on basic gardening and growing vegetables than ever before. The focus of many questions EMGVs are answering at Farmer’s Markets, on horticulture hot-lines, or other venues are related to growing food.
Last year the Portage Co. (Wisconsin) MG Association deviated from the normal “garden walk” program showcasing local ornamental gardens, and invited people to visit private vegetable gardens instead. Guests were given tours of the gardens to help everyone from beginners to experienced gardeners learn more about the crops they grow. Featured gardening techniques included conventional and organic, raised beds, square-foot, and ridge planting. The atmosphere was informal and visitors were encouraged to share their gardening experiences and ask questions of the hosts and EMGVs.
In southern Wisconsin, Rock Prairie EMGVs decided that it wasn’t enough to just grow and donate vegetables. In order to educate on uses for fresh produce, nutritional information and safe handling methods, as well as to provide better access to fresh, local produce to low income families and seniors, they teamed up with Rock Co. UW-Extension nutrition educators to create direct farm markets at area WIC clinics and senior centers, utilizing the vegetables grown by the Rock Co. jail inmates participating in the RECAP program. Last year six markets conducted on 32 days reached 580 clients. In addition to purchasing vegetables, individuals were instructed on WIC/Senior Fresh Produce Voucher usage, presented recipes, preparation and preserving methods, were introduced to new vegetables and encouraged to utilize other community sources.
What are EMGVs doing to help fight hunger in your community?
Let us know by submitting a comment by clicking on the comments link under this post
– Susan Mahr
Wisconsin Master Gardener Program Coordinator
Visit the Wisconsin Master Gardener website at wimastergardener.org