Zucchini overload? Colo. food banks want your garden’s surplus

Photo: Produce for pantries garden signs
These signs are placed near gardens that are registered with Produce for Pantries and donate produce to food banks and hunger relief organizations.

A group of hunger-relief organizations is encouraging gardeners in Colorado who have more vegetables and fruit than they can use to donate to nearby food pantries this harvest season.

Hunger Free Colorado says 1 in 6 Coloradans face times when there is not enough money to buy food for themselves or their families. Their neighbors might be growing healthy food - and have extra - so a coalition of hunger relief organizations kicked off the Produce for Pantries program late last summer to try to make it easier for people to donate freshly harvested goods.

The group's hotline that has been helping residents find food assistance can also connect gardeners to the nearest food pantry that accepts produce.

"It is a challenge if you’re living on a limited food budget to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables," says Michelle Ray, spokeswoman for Hunger Free Colorado. "This does kind of help fill that nutritional gap and at least provide additional access to those foods that might not be easy to come by when you’re living in poverty."

Ray says the hotline has gotten about 60 calls from gardeners inquiring about donating since the statewide initiative started a year ago, but she says it's hard to know how many Coloradans have made donations as most food banks don't necessarily track them.

Produce for Pantries co-founder Dana Miller says the coalition created a registry for gardeners this year who want to commit to sharing. She says they get signs to put near their gardens and track their donations. It's an experiment to see if that will help more people take part.

"Once somebody does start taking their freshly grown food into a food pantry or any sort of organization and that relationship starts, then we know we have the gardeners at that point," she says, "because it’s such a satisfying thing to do, and people are so grateful to get the fresh produce."

Miller says so far about 40 individual, community, and schoolyard gardeners that are registered with the program have donated 1,000 pounds of produce to 10 organizations.