Gardener’s Corner: Feed the Community by Donating Homegrown Fruits and Vegetables | Home & Garden

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ILLINOIS EXTENSION TEAM

This summer, when your garden is bursting with fresh produce in abundance, donate to local food pantries. Donations of fruits and vegetables from our vegetable gardens help feed our local communities.

The donation of fresh produce from the garden begins before planting. Ensure the donation of safe and usable produce by contacting a food pantry while planning your garden. Planting what a local food pantry can accept will help ensure the delivery of fresh produce.

Donors can find a list of food pantries that will accept products at ampleharvest.org. The pantry list will indicate which products are accepted and the hours of pantry dispensing. Pantry manager contact details are provided for preferred drop-off times.

Grow with GAP

Good Agricultural Practices, or GAPs, are a set of guidelines created by the USDA offering guidance for reducing the risk of microbial contamination in fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

When donating produce, keep in mind these major factors that affect food security: land preparation, handling during harvest and sorting, and preparation for storage.

Soil preparation

Most gardeners don’t use manure, but it’s the most common contaminant in garden produce. Do not use animal manure or manure-based compost at least 120 days before planting in vegetable gardens. Instead, use finished compost, available in bulk from landscaping suppliers or in bags at garden centers.

All food safety concerns are important, but special attention should be paid to products eaten raw: green salads, tomatoes or melons. Fruits and vegetables eaten raw are often responsible for outbreaks of foodborne illnesses broadcast in the news because they are not cooked before being eaten.

Crops eaten raw, such as tomatoes and peppers, can be protected pre-harvest by trellising which reduces soil contact and soil-borne diseases. When working with crops, wash your hands before handling, especially on harvest day.

Harvesting and sorting

After crops are harvested, inspect for insects and insect damage, mold, yellow or discolored leaves, and rot. Create a sorting station to quickly sort spoiled products to avoid contamination of fresh products.

Preparation for storage

Containers used for food storage and donations should be washed in cool soapy water and sanitized with a mild food grade sanitizer, then rinsed and allowed to air dry. Products placed in dirty bins – or wet, clean bins – are prone to bacterial contamination.

Product washing is necessary for some crops but not all. In fact, washing certain vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, can increase the risk of food safety issues. Greens should be washed with fresh tap water or a water source regularly tested for bacteria.

For more information on gardening, donating produce, or finding a local food pantry, contact your local Illinois Extension County office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.

Gardener‘s Corner is a quarterly newsletter from Illinois Extension’s team of horticultural experts. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner mailing list for direct access to timely advice!

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