August Toolshed: Tips for Garden Leaders

By Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator

Your August Tip: What better way to celebrate this time of abundance than to share the bounty! Whether it’s swapping plentiful veggies with fellow gardeners, sharing tasty treats with neighbors and friends, or giving a portion of your produce to a local food shelf or community kitchen—sharing the harvest benefits everyone. Below are some tips for organizing a coordinated produce donation program at your community garden.Class Table

  1. Gauge interest. Ask around or organize a meeting of community gardeners to determine who and how many would like to participate in a produce donation program. If you’re posing this question now, mid-late summer, your donations will be coming from surplus garden harvest (from plants already growing). If you begin this conversation in the spring, you can discuss if gardeners want to plant specifically for donation, either in a communal donation plot or in person plots. To organize a more involved campaign for garden produce donation, look into Garden Writers Association’s Plant a Row for the Hungry program.
  1. Find a local food shelf, community kitchen, or other outlet for your donated produce. Talk with the donation site coordinator to ask if they accept fresh garden produce, what kinds of produce they need the most, and what the best days and times are for produce drop off. To locate a site near you, check out Vermont Foodbank’s map of Vermont food shelves and meal sites. Another great resource that links gardens to local food shelves is http://www.ampleharvest.org.
  1. Make a plan for donating. Using the information you received from the donation site, work with interested gardeners to determine how produce will be harvested, cleaned, collected, stored, and delivered. If you are harvesting from a shared, dedicated donation plot, you’ll also want to add garden maintenance to your list of volunteer tasks. Typically a rotating schedule works well—having one or two people in charge of managing and delivering donations on a weekly basis. For scheduling and tracking volunteer work, use a system with which people are already familiar and is easy to use—whether it’s an online system or a clipboard hung in the shed. If you are collecting produce from multiple personal garden beds, here are a couple of ideas for collecting gardener harvest:

    Sustainability Academy teacher Amy Lachance holds up painted rounds used to mark beds ready for harvest.

    Sustainability Academy teacher Amy Lachance holds up painted rounds used to mark beds ready for harvest.

  • White Rock Gleaning Program: KAM Isaiah Israel, a synagogue in Chicago, organizes a team of volunteers to glean from community garden plots. Participating community gardeners are asked to place a “white rock” (painted white) in the corner of their plot if they have harvested what they need from their garden for the week and are ready to donate the rest. Volunteer gleaners come at a regular designated time to pick extra produce from “white rock” gardens and deliver to local food shelves. Learn more about KAM Isaiah Israel’s produce donation programs at https://kamii.org/content/our-garden.
  • Other gardens put gardeners themselves in charge of the harvest. On designated days (1-2 per week during peak harvest) gardeners harvest the veggies they want to donate. The volunteer for that week’s donation delivery sets out a cooler and several secure (critter-proof) storage containers in a shady location early in the day and picks them up toward the end of the day* to deliver to the donation site.  *The timing of the delivery will depend on the needs of the donation site.
  • If you’re harvesting something larger and all at once (like potatoes or carrots), consider turning the harvest into a work party and combining with another garden gathering such as a potluck, workshop, or other fun event.

No matter how you choose to collect, be sure to harvest and deliver healthy, intact produce—nobody wants to eat mushy or tough vegetables and cracked and overly ripe vegetables will be difficult to store. Proper storage is crucial to keeping your fresh produce fresh. For storage, use, and preservation tips go to Vermont Foodbank’s Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.

  1. Track donations. Some food shelves will have a scale for weighing donations, but if not consider investing in a simple produce scale so you can track the pounds of your harvest. Post the pounds donated in a place where gardeners will see it (i.e. bulletin board, garden shed, email)—this is their harvest and it’s important to celebrate and honor the bounty. Seeing the progress of the harvest may even get more gardeners involved in donating. Tracking this data will also be useful to include in publicity and when seeking funding for your community garden.

Adapted from Jodi Torpey’s article, Start a Community Garden Vegetable Donation Program on VegetableGardener.com.