With about 14% of Indiana households struggling with food insecurity, there’s no question regarding the importance of community involvement and volunteering. Whether donating time, funds, or food items, any and all help is needed. In fact, there is a little known way that individuals can help provide food – gardening! If you have a garden or a farm of any size, you can donate your fresh produce to local food pantries and soup kitchens! Fresh produce is actually among the most needed of all food items, due to the logistics of storing the fruits and vegetables. Because of this unfortunate reality, food insecure individuals often have little to no access to some of the healthiest foods with important vitamins and minerals, and end up receiving only nutritionally inadequate, calorie-rich breads, cereals and dried goods. This leads to an unhealthful, high body weight and potentially severe nutritional deficiencies or diseases related to the obese condition. By donating foods that you grow yourself, you can help solve this problem!
The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act
The first step in the process of donating your fresh fruits and vegetables is making sure that you understand what the law says. As of October 1, 1996, donating fresh produce became legally protected. The FDA and USDA have very strict laws about food distribution aimed at protecting the consumers from unintentional (or sadly, intentional) harm due to contaminants, disease or allergens. This law protects you from liability when donating to a non-profit organization, even if there is an accident later on. Read more about donor protection under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.
How to Donate
Donating to local soup kitchens and food pantries is actually very easy, but the exact protocols vary among donation centers. A great way to get started is simply to find a location! Look up soup kitchens and food pantries online, in the local phone directory, or contact service agencies and churches to help identify programs in your community. They will give you directions regarding location, time and day as well as their capacity for donations. Find a soup kitchen or food pantry here.
Another great resource is a web database called, Ample Harvest, which helps users identify local food pantries and get access to fresh food that would otherwise be wasted. The website offers a lot of great resources for gardeners, including a page with FAQ’s, as well as information for food pantries and more. It’s a piece of cake!
Michigan State University Extension Office offers a number of guidelines for donating produce from your garden safely and effectively:
- Make sure that the produce you offer to food pantries is fresh, and of good quality without signs of mold, spoilage, bruising or insects.
- Wash your hands and utensils before handling fresh fruits and vegetables to prevent food borne illness
- Keep produce types from intermixing. Store in clean, food-grade containers or bags.
- Remove mud and dirt as much as possible from items for donation, but do not wash them. Washing food that will not be immediately consumed encourages spoilage.
Overall, there is a variety of ways that you can help have a positive impact in your community with regards to food insecurity. Whether gardening is a hobby or not, there are ways to help those in need and have fun at the same time!
Hale, Katherine E and Eileen Haraminac. (Sept 2013). Donating Surplus Garden Produce. Extension Bulletin E33201.
Purdue University. (2015). Food Insecurity in Indiana. Indiana’s Emergency Food Resource Network.