Gardener’s Corner: Feed the community by donating homegrown fruit and veg | Home & Garden

ILLINOIS EXPANSION TEAM

This summer, when your home garden is bursting with an abundance of fresh produce, make a donation to local pantries. The fruit and vegetable donations from our backyard gardens help feed our local communities.

Donating garden-fresh produce begins before planting. Ensure safe, usable produce is donated by communicating with a pantry when planning your garden. Planting what a local pantry can adopt will help ensure the delivery of fresh produce.

Donors can find a list of pantries that accept product on plentyharvest.org. The pantry listing shows which products are accepted and the pantry distribution times. Contact information for the Pantry Manager will be provided for preferred drop-off times.

Grow with GAP

Good Agricultural Practices or GAP is a set of guidelines created by the USDA that provide guidance on reducing the risk of microbial contamination in fruits, vegetables and nuts.

When donating produce, keep these important factors in mind that affect food safety: soil preparation, handling during harvest and grading, and preparation for storage.

soil preparation

Most gardeners don’t use fertilizer, but this is the most common contaminant from garden products. Do not use animal manure or manure-based compost in vegetable gardens at least 120 days before planting. Instead, use ready-made compost, which is available in bulk from landscapers or in bags at garden centers.

All food safety concerns are important, but special care should be taken when eating raw: lettuce, tomatoes or melons. Fruits and vegetables eaten raw are a common cause of foodborne outbreaks that get the news because they are not cooked before consumption.

Plants eaten raw, such as tomatoes and peppers, can be protected by trellises before harvest, reducing soil contact and soil-borne diseases. When working with crops, wash hands before handling, especially on harvest day.

Harvest and sort

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

storage preparation

Containers used for storage and food donation should be washed with fresh soapy water and sanitized with a mild food sanitizer, then rinsed and air dried. Products placed in dirty containers—or wet, clean containers—are exposed to bacterial contamination.

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

Contact your local Illinois Extension County Office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice for more information about gardening, donating produce, or locating a local grocery store.

Gardener’s Corner is a quarterly newsletter from the Illinois Extension team of horticultural experts. Each issue presents best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape or garden shine any time of the year. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list for instant access to the latest tips!

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