In the U.S., 40 percent of our food goes to waste. Upon hearing that statistic, many of us tend to think about the waste that occurs in our kitchens or in restaurants. A large portion of that waste, however, also takes place on farms because of logistical issues during harvest. Additionally, an increasing number of people grow food themselves in backyards and community gardens across the country, and sometimes food even gets wasted on these small “farms.” During good growing seasons with adequate rain and few pests, people can wind up with too much of a particular crop and then don’t know what to do with it.
If you find yourself in this situation and can’t find someone to take extra produce off your hands, consider using one of the many nonprofit organizations trying to turn potential food waste into healthy meals. More than 50 million Americans face food insecurity, so it only makes sense to find ways to get food to those who need it (because the landfill certainly doesn’t need your produce!).
Ample Harvest, for example, is a national organization that connects people interested in donating their extra garden harvest to local food pantries. Currently, their system has 6,812 food pantries registered to receive fresh food, which is typically something food pantries are unable to offer their patrons because of the short shelf life of produce. To contribute, gardeners can use the Ample Harvest website to search for food pantries nearby and find out times when donations are accepted. Since 2009, many millions of pounds of produce have been donated using the system.
Plenty of local programs have similar goals, so you can also look into what food donation programs exist in your community. In Portland, Ore., the city’s Parks and Recreation Department began a program in 1995 called Produce for People that partners with hunger relief agencies to donate fruits and vegetables to food pantries. Dozens of the city’s community gardens participate, and many even plant a special section whose harvest is grown specifically for the organization.
While food waste in gardens may seem small compared to the much greater amounts of waste in the larger food system, every little bit we save from the landfill — and provide to someone in need — adds up.