Share the Harvest

Guidelines for Donating Produce from Community Gardens

While Emergency Food Assistance Agencies help thousands of Chicagoans make ends meet every week, they often struggle to provide a consistent source of fresh produce. Meanwhile the City’s gardeners grow ample amounts of nutritious produce each year. Use these guidelines to help join the effort to share the harvest in your community!


Is Sharing the Harvest for us?

Donating produce can be a rewarding experience, but it is not a match for every garden. Where will you grow the produce? Are there unused beds, or do people often have extra produce to glean? Who will collect the donations? How many gardeners are interested in volunteering to help? Do you have a way to transport the vegetables? If so, becoming a donation garden can:

  • Help alleviate hunger
  • Attract new garden members
  • Build strong community partnerships
  • Promote healthy diets in your community

How can we find a partner agency?

If you need help connecting to an agency, you can call the Greater Chicago Food Depository at 773-247-3663 or use their online Agency Locator. You can also visit Ample Harvest to find pantries that are actively seeking fresh produce.

Once you find a potential partner, ask these questions to decide if an agency is a good match:

  1. Is the agency nearby? Staying local will ease communication and transportation.
  2. Can the agency accept raw, unprocessed food?
  3. What produce is most needed? What produce is not helpful?
  4. Is there a minimum or maximum amount accepted?
  5. Who will be harvesting? Garden members? Agency volunteers? Both?
  6. Where and when can produce be dropped off?
  7. What is the storage capacity? Is there refrigeration available?
  8. Does the produce need to be washed and bagged?
  9. How will food get to the agency?

Can you answer all these questions with confidence? If so, it might be time to move forward with a partnership. Remember that any strong relationship is built on good communication: ask your agency about the needs of its clients, invite agency staff and clients to garden events,  or volunteer at the agency yourself. Check out this sample agency agreement for guidelines.

What donation system should we use?

Any donation system requires a dedicated group of gardeners to manage the process, but there are numerous ways to organize these efforts:

Formal Models

Giving/pantry garden: In lieu of tending individual plots, gardeners work together to donate all harvested produce to a partner agency. Giving gardens often encourage novice gardeners to volunteer and participate. A terrific Chicago example is Ginkgo Organic Gardens.

Dedicated donation beds: One or more beds or plots in a garden are dedicated to growing food for an agency. Gardeners can continue to grow their own food, while also growing food for others. Gardens with waitlists can recruit waitlisted gardeners to maintain the donation beds. Check out Peterson Garden Project’s Grow2Give program for some good examples.

Plant-a-Row: Gardeners choose to grow an extra donation row in their individual bed or plot. Based on the partner agency’s needs, participating gardeners all might grow the same crop at the same time and harvest it once or twice a season for donation. The Garden Writers Association offers plant-a-row tips.

Gleaning: After gardeners have harvested their own produce, remaining produce is harvested for donation. Gardeners that choose to participate place a sign in their plot to indicate that it can be gleaned. Interested community members who aren’t gardeners can join a “gleaning team” that collects and delivers donations.We recommend looking at Rotary First Harvest’s Gleaners Resource Guide, and Seattle’s Lettuce Link offers signs for gleaning.

Informal Models

You don’t have to have a partnership with an agency to provide free produce to the community. Here are a few less formal ways to donate that can also help spread the word about your garden:

Door-To-Door: There may be people in your community that can’t leave their home to get fresh food. Try delivering extra produce from the garden to your neighbors.

Produce Giveaway in the Garden: Set up a table after a garden work day for neighbors to come to the garden and take home the extra produce. Make event flyers to post at the garden and around the neighborhood.

Public Harvest Plots: Designate a plot or certain areas of the garden for anyone to harvest from. Put up signage letting them know where, what, and how to harvest.

How can we develop a strong team?

Here are some tips for building a consistent Donation Team to make sure the food gets to the partner agency:

  • Reach out to all of your gardeners; tell them why this is important and where you are donating.
  • Share responsibilities. Don’t go it alone or you’ll burn out. Here are some ideas for roles volunteers can play:
    • Donation leader(s) to oversee donations
    • Community outreach to spread the word and recruit members
    • Harvest team to harvest donations
    • Drivers or bikers to deliver produce
  • Create a schedule for work days and harvesting. Consider setting the same day/time each week for collection and drop off.
  • Teach appropriate handling of produce and proper storage according to your partner agency.

What are some good models of pantry gardening in Chicago?

Take a look at these:

Miscellaneous Questions

Is it worth tracking how much we donate?

Yes! Knowing how much food you donate each year can inspire others to get involved and can help you know the impact you’re making.

  • If you have a scale, consider weighing your produce. Try to find a flat, stable surface large enough for your scale and harvest.

  • Fill out a donation log, such as this example log from Angelic Organics Learning Center. It can be helpful to track the types of produce you donate when you plan next year’s garden.

  • Store your scale and donation logs in an accessible, secure location such as a tool shed.

  • Looking to purchase a scale? Check out what Ginkgo Organic Garden uses here.

  • If you don’t have a scale and don’t have the funds to purchase one try using this Harvest Guide from Angelic Organics Learning Center.

I make terrific homemade salsa with produce from the garden; Can I donate it?

Under current food safety regulations, you unfortunately cannot donate food from your garden after you process it. Thus, agencies can’t take your salsa (or salads, or pasta sauce), but you can still of course donate those tomatoes and chilies, or even offer to provide recipes or cooking demonstrations for the agency’s clients.

Are we liable if somebody gets sick from our donated food?

All donations are given and accepted under the legislative guidelines as outlined in the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 which states:

A non-profit organization shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the non-profit organization received as a donation in good faith from a person or gleaner for ultimate distribution to needy individuals.

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