This is a busy time of year for home gardeners! Between preparing the soil, planting and protecting early crops from a potential late frost, most people aren't thinking about harvesting food at this time. It is, however, the perfect time to consider planting that extra row of green beans or broccoli that can then be donated to your local food bank or pantry later in the summer.
Everyone needs healthy, good food and there is nothing better than produce fresh from the garden. Unfortunately, for those that rely on food assistance from a food bank, fresh produce is often not an option. However, many food banks and pantries will gladly accept donations of these products with a little preplanning from the person making the donation. If you think this might be something you want to consider this year, here are some tips to keep in mind to provide those in need with wholesome, nutritious, fresh and delicious food.
- First, check with your local organization(s) to see if they are willing to accept fresh produce donations at their site. If the answer is yes, then iron out details as to which days donations will be accepted and types of products they will accept, as well as any other guidelines they may have on food donations.
- If you will be using pesticides or manure in your garden, be sure to follow directions carefully in order to minimize the risk of potential contamination. This is especially important when it comes to the number of days needed between application of the pesticide or fertilizer and harvest. For tips see Growing Produce Safely.
- When harvesting, be sure to follow safe food handling practices. Wash your hands before starting and use clean tools to cut or harvest the produce. If you have a cut on your hand, be sure it is bandaged and wear a glove. If you are sick, especially with vomiting or diarrhea, don't harvest foods.
- Harvest produce early in the morning. Wipe as much mud and dirt off of the product as possible, but do not wash or rinse. The added water can remove some of the natural protective coatings and will cause spoilage sooner than unwashed produce.
- Do not mix different types of produce in containers and always use clean, food grade containers or bags. Plastic bins or containers that can be washed and reused or bags that can be washed and reused are best. Never place food in containers that held chemicals or raw meat products, as this can lead to cross contamination and possible foodborne illness.
- Transport product as quickly as possible to the donation site.
- Do not donate fruits and vegetables that are overripe, have signs of mold or other signs of spoilage, bruises or insect damage. If you wouldn't eat it, do not donate it!
If you donate food to a food bank you are protected by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that was signed into law in 1996. The purpose of this act was to encourage people, companies and other organizations to donate healthy foods to non-profit organizations. The bill protects against civil and criminal liability if the items were donated in good faith but later cause harm or illness. This includes produce from a home garden, as well as grocery type products.
What a wonderful way to share your summer garden bounty!