Food For Thought An estimated 100 billion pounds of food, enough to totally eliminate hunger, is thrown away annually in the United States. It does not have to be this way - and you can help. Your support of the AmpleHarvest.org Campaign helps many more food pantries receive fresh produce - improving community health while also helping the environment.
Q. What exactly is the AmpleHarvest.org campaign?
A. Created by CNN Hero Gary Oppenheimer, AmpleHarvest.org is a free nationwide campaign to diminish hunger and malnutrition (while helping the environment) in America by making it easy for millions of backyard gardeners across the country to quickly find local food pantries eager to receive their excess garden bounty.
AmpleHarvest.org has received backing and support from the USDA, Google Inc., Feeding America and food banks nationwide as well as major faith organizations. It has been highlighted on the White House web site, PBS's "Growing A Greener World" as well as the CNN Heroes program.
AmpleHarvest.org enables gardeners to find food pantries within a specified distance of their home and then view the pantries desired day/time for receiving donations. AmpleHarvest.org also displays personalized driving instructions to the pantry as well as (if provided) a photograph of the pantry - making it easier to find. For the benefit of gardeners during a non-growing season or anyone else interested in making a donation (using our web site, iPhone or Android apps, AmpleHarvest.org also provides pantries the opportunity to list store bought items they are in particular need of.
Our vision is an America where millions of gardeners eliminate malnutrition and hunger in their own community. We are accomplishing this by educating, encouraging and enabling growers nationwide to donate their excess harvest to the needy in their community instead of allowing it to rot in the garden. Our message to America is: No Food Left Behind.
Although there are a number of excellent programs that help farmers and community gardens get produce to food banks, AmpleHarvest.org is the only program in America that is solving hunger and malnutrition by moving information instead of moving food. to help local gardeners find neighborhood food pantries. AmpleHarvest.org, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization (EIN #27-2433274).
Q. What is the difference between a food bank and a food pantry?
A. Food Banks are large scale operations that collect and distribute food and other household items to local food pantries, soup kitchens, etc. Food Pantries are local walk-in facilities where families in need go to get food. (Note: In some parts of the country, what we are calling a "food pantry" is instead referred to as a "food shelf", "food closet", "food cupboard", "food share" or even "food bank". For the sake of simplicity, AmpleHarvest.org uses only the terms "Food Bank" and "Food Pantry"). The typical food pantry operates out of a local house of worship or other civic building. Most of the foods distributed by the pantries are packaged, canned or dry goods. Refrigeration is usually limited to dairy items such as milk and cheese. Produce is rarely available.
Q. How many food pantries are there in the country?
A. No one knows for sure. According to a study by FeedingAmerica.org, in 2010, there were 33,500 in their network - an increase of 13% from 2006. There are no accurate statistics on how many other food pantries exist outside of the FeedingAmerica.org network, but by some estimates, there may now be more than 40,000.
Whatever the number, it is too large.
Q. Why don't pantries offer fresh produce?
A. Unlike supermarkets that get deliveries from food wholesalers daily assuring that you'll get fresh produce, food banks and other sources do less frequent deliveries of food to pantries. As such, lettuce or tomatoes that looked great on Monday when the food bank got them would be pretty limp or mushy a week later when finally delivered to the local food pantry.
Backyard gardeners however can harvest their produce and deliver it to the pantry on the same day. Furthermore, if the pantry clients pickup the produce that same day, they will benefit from eating food that is even fresher than what can be purchased at a food store.
Q. Why do gardeners grow more food they can use?
A. In an ideal world, gardeners would plant only enough to satisfy the needs of themselves and their friends. The reality of gardening (and farming in general) is that all sorts of things beyond the control of the gardener influence the ultimate size of the harvest. In a growing season with lots of sun, adequate rain, no late or early frosts, no serious pest problems (small pests such as fungus, pests a bit larger such as insects, pests a lot larger such as ground hogs or rabbits, and very large pests such as deer) etc, the grower gets a larger harvest. If however, any of the above appear (more often than not, several can appear at the same time), the harvest is significantly reduced.
Because the gardener never quite knows how good (or bad) the growing season will be, they usually grow more plants than they need--just in case a fungus laden insect traveling in the fur of a deer sized ground hog attacks the garden. The result is that if one or more of these bad things do not attack the garden, the harvest can easily exceed the needs of the grower.
AmpleHarvest.org exists to insure that the extra produce gets to food pantries instead of being left to rot in the garden.
Q. I don't garden/am not gardening right now... can I still contribute?
Not everyone gardens and gardeners do not garden all the time. Food pantries need fresh produce - but they also need a variety of store bought items all year long.
Pantries are encouraged to add information to their AmpleHarvest.org page listing store bought items they are most in need of (they may also list items they don't need!). If the pantry you found has listed store bought items they need, buy what you can afford on your next shopping trip (or check your kitchen cabinets) and drop them off at the pantry at the day/time they listed for donations. The free AmpleHarvest.org AmpleHarvest.org iPhone app and Android apps were designed to help you find a food pantry when you are not near your computer... such as when you are shopping.
Please check the expiration date on the items you are bringing to the pantry (from your home or from a store). Even canned goods expire. Food pantries do not distribute, and will dispose of food past its expiration date.
Q. I think this is a great idea... how can I help?
A. Although there are already 7,535 food pantries across all 50 states already registered on AmpleHarvest.org, the key to the continued success of the AmpleHarvest.org Campaign is increasing the public awareness of the effort.
As more pantries AND gardeners learn about it, more food will find its way from backyard gardens to the kitchens of those who need it most.
And you can help.
A. We're very sorry to hear about your situation.... many people across the country are having similar difficulties.
The AmpleHarvest.org web site is designed to help food pantries in your community, where you can get food assistance, get garden fresh produce from local gardeners.
While we can't help you directly, we know where you can get help - please click here to learn about resources avalable from both WhyHunger.org and United Way.
AmpleHarvest.org is working hard to get healthy, freshly grown food into America's food pantries. These two organziations can help you find one nearby.