By Tammie Ostdiek, Extension Educator – Food, Nutrition and Health
Delicious vegetables and fruits are abundant in August. And gardeners know that a lot of this produce is ready for harvest at the same time, making it difficult to use before it goes to waste.
To avoid throwing out produce, start with a plan to use what the family can eat fresh, possibly preserve some for the winter, and then consider sharing with others. Donating to a food pantry is a great way to share the abundance with people who need food and often appreciate the fresh, locally grown produce.
Check with food pantries in your area to see if they accept fresh produce (they need adequate storage). Find out which days and times are best for dropping off produce; many small local pantries have limited hours.
Donate fresh produce that is easy to store at room temperature for several days and can be eaten fresh or used in many different recipes. Pick vegetables at the peak of ripeness for the best flavor and texture. Common vegetables that are easily recognized will be preferred over unusual varieties or colors. Tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, green beans, peppers, melons, and of course the prolific zucchini are excellent on the food pantry shelf and are likely to disappear quickly.
Keep food safety in mind when handling fruits and vegetables. Practice good personal hygiene. Wipe excess dirt off vegetables grown in the ground. Use a food grade harvest container which can also be used to transport the food and protect it from damage. Keep fruits and vegetables whole; avoid cut produce, which needs refrigeration. A food safety guideline is to avoid donating anything not considered high-enough quality to serve to family.
Growing Together Nebraska is a community donation garden project connecting local Extension staff, active Master Gardeners, and local community organizations. The purpose is to increase food security and promote healthy food access for families and individuals who are food insecure. In 12 counties across Nebraska, produce is donated through community gardens or grow-a-row donations, in which community members donate produce grown from their home gardens.
To learn more about Growing Together Nebraska visit: https://food.unl.edu/growing-together-nebraska
Look for local food donation sites by visiting the Feeding America website or search food pantry near me. https://extension.unl.edu/statewide/dakota/Voices_For_Food/10%20Foods%20to%20donate%20to%20Pantry.pdf