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Published August 09 2013

Garden Project brings produce to needy

More info

For more information on the Hunger Free North Dakota Garden Project and how to donate, visit http://tinyurl.com/hungerfreen or contact the Great Plains Food Bank at (701) 232-6219.

BISMARCK - Karen Ehrens isn’t just a consultant for the Hunger Free North Dakota Garden Project. She and her family are getting their hands dirty and helping tend their Bismarck church’s garden plot.

Produce from that plot will be donated to hunger programs. Getting fresh produce to those in need is exactly what the Hunger Free North Dakota Garden Project is all about.

“It’s important because these perishable food products like fruits and vegetables are harder to come by through the charitable food network,” said Ehrens, who is also the coordinator of Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota. The produce helps expand the reach of food pantries, “and it also helps get some of the most nutritiously beneficial foods to people.”

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture spearheads the Hunger Free North Dakota Garden Project, working with a number of partner organizations in the state.

The initiative encourages farmers and gardeners to plant extra and donate it to food charities in the state. Organizers also encourage food growers to donate excess produce they raise that would otherwise go to waste.

There’s “nothing worse” than seeing an apple tree full of fruit that’s rotting because perhaps the owner couldn’t get out to harvest it or simply didn’t have a use for the fruit, said Jamie Good, local foods marketing specialist for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

The initiative has collected more than 770,000 pounds of food the past three years, Good said. Organizers hope to top the million-pound mark this year.

“If we keep tracking the way we have, it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

The prospect of passing a million pounds is exciting, said Steve Sellent, director of the Great Plains Food Bank. The food bank has been involved with the initiative since it was launched.

“We weren’t sure where all this was going to lead when we kicked it off four years ago,” Sellent said. “But it’s just been a great, great program, and I think a way, really, to link the people that love to grow vegetables with the people that really need some help in our state.”

The produce the food bank receives through the Garden Project helps supply food to the 75,000 people who turn to its network each year for food assistance, Sellent said. It also helps the food bank supply more nutritious foods to those it serves.

“We’ve really had a push in recent years to offer more healthy options,” he said. “And this program’s been just a huge boost to that. You know, what’s healthier than fresh produce right out of the garden or the field?”

Gardeners and farmers don’t need large quantities to donate in order to participate in the Garden Project. Acres of produce or just a pound or two is accepted.

“The nice part is, the more people who participate, the wider variety of product we get,” Sellent said.

In addition to the food bank, other partners in the project are Lutheran Social Services, North Dakota State University Extension Service, Dakota College at Bottineau, the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association, Healthy North Dakota and Pride of Dakota.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734