Harvest for Hunger Collection to Exceed 90 Tons
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Harvest for Hunger Program this year generated 179,712 pounds of fresh garden produce donated to charity by volunteer gardeners around the state.
Nearly 500 volunteer gardeners in about a dozen counties this year donated the nearly 90 tons of vegetables and fruit to 114 food pantries, shelters or charitable organizations around the state, according to Extension educator Barbara Murphy in the South Paris Oxford County office. Murphy, who oversees the program, values the produce at $303,713, based on a sales price averaging $1.69 per pound.
The number of participants more than doubled from 200 in 2010 and the number of organizations benefiting from the gardeners’ generosity more than tripled, from 45 last year. Murphy calculated that farmers and gardeners collectively logged 5,890 hours in this year’s Harvest for Hunger effort.
Murphy considers the program, which is still receiving donated produce as the growing season winds down, highly successful given the challenging, if not poor, growing conditions throughout much of the summer. Inconsistent rain, combined with hot, dry periods, took an especially large toll on winter squash, “which always adds tons to the totals,” she says.
Donated fruits and vegetables have increased in volume each year, as has the number of gardeners participating, in addition to the need, Murphy says. Since 2000, volunteers have donated almost 542 tons of fresh produce to the Extension’s Harvest for Hunger program.
Participating counties producing the most produce for the program are listed in order: Kennebec, Penobscot, York, Oxford, Washington, Hancock, Franklin, Cumberland, and Knox, Waldo and Lincoln combined, Piscataquis and Somerset.
In addition, Highmoor Farm in Monmouth and university experimental gardens contributed more than 6 tons. Murphy says with as much as 20,000 pounds anticipated from Androscoggin and Penobscot counties, the grand total could reach 100 tons, the amount donated in 2010.