Growing more fruits and vegetables than your family can eat is a great gardening “problem” to have. What did you grow last year that you shared with others? You probably won't have to think very long, because sharing is powerful, makes everyone happy, and creates lasting memories. During the contemporary plague known as COVID, many of us turned to our gardens as a way to maintain our physical and emotional well-being. Now, as we (hopefully) return to some sort of normal, our gardens can help us reconnect to others in very meaningful ways.
Vegetable gardens reach their peak in late summer. Tomatoes ripen at a rapid pace, squash and beans can't be harvested fast enough and people in your household start rolling their eyes at your latest zucchini creations. Figuring out what to do with all that fresh produce can be a dilemma. Some may channel their pioneering (or hippie) forebears by drying, freezing, or canning. All of these methods of preservation are laudable, but frankly take more time, space, and know-how than most of us have. Rather than having your produce go to waste or ending up in the compost pile, share the abundance you created with friends, neighbors, and even your whole community. Although this might provoke images of going door to door with a wheelbarrow (or providing a really good rationale for acquiring a vintage pick-up truck!) you can donate your fresh produce to local food banks. On a larger scale, two organizations are partnering to create a sustainable system of providing high quality vegetables and fruits to people with limited resources.
Each Green Corner (EGC, https://www.eachgreencorner.org) is an all-volunteer group that works to bridge the gap between home gardeners and places where members of the community can obtain fresh, healthy produce, thereby strengthening the connection between food security and public health. Inspired by the fact that interest in non-commercial agriculture was increasing throughout the area, the all-volunteer group saw the potential to leverage smaller, underutilized plots of land scattered throughout the area (residences, schools, parks, etc.) to grow fresh food for the culturally diverse population in the greater community. EGC works with home gardeners (each person “hosting” a garden is referred to as a “Garden Steward”) educating them to grow produce using sustainable practices that can supply produce to food-insecure community members in San Mateo County. EGC-supported gardens are not limited to private residences, however. Any underutilized plot of land, such as out-of-the-way areas of schools, community properties and other public spaces are considered fair game for creating gardens. In combination, each small-scale effort becomes part of something far more significant in the effort to create and maintain a healthier world.
EGC was founded as an official 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization in 2018 and since then has worked to educate and assist people to harvest excess produce from each garden and donate the surplus to local non-profit food distribution organizations. To date, EGC has donated over 6500 pounds of produce from 15 sites throughout San Mateo County. EGC was recently named one of San Mateo County's Sustainability Heroes of 2022 (See https://sustainablesanmateo.org/). Each year, Sustainable San Mateo County (SSMC) recognizes the efforts of local organizations that make significant contributions in protecting the planet.
The University of California Master Gardeners Harvest for Neighbors project (H4N - https://smsf- mastergardeners.ucanr.edu/projects/harvest-for-neighbors/) aims to reduce food waste by ensuring all fruits and vegetables grown locally get used, to introduce more people to gardening, and to promote best practices of sustainable gardening. With the missions of H4N and Each Green Corner so closely aligned, it seemed only natural that they should work together. The two organizations have recently formed a partnership wherein UC Master Gardeners provide research, education, experience, and expertise to EGC “Garden Stewards” to assist them in developing and maintaining their gardens.
Bottom line: working together in gardens and donating fresh produce to food pantries in the Bay Area fosters a win-win scenario for all. Growers who are passionate about working in the garden can feel confident knowing that their skills have made a difference as their produce is shared.
If you like the idea of working with others to promote better nutrition and quality of life in your community but can't go all-in, there are great options to consider. One is to grow an extra row of whatever fruit or vegetable you might have in your garden. Another might be to volunteer at one of the Each Green Corner locations. More information can be found in the links provided above. The websites listed also contain information about food pantries that welcome home-grown food in the Bay Area.
The article was written and edited by UC Master Gardeners Cynthia Nations and Maggie Mah.