A Giving Garden

March 2022 View more

Calling all those with edible gardens: Wouldn’t it be great if you could grow extra food and donate it to families in need? 

It turns out you can. Food pantries are happy to get fresh produce, and knowing where to donate just got easier thanks to the app Fresh Food Connect (freshfoodconnect.org). Launched locally by the GardenWorks Project (gardenworksproject.org), the app lets users know which pantries need fresh food and what type of produce they are accepting. It’s just one example of the myriad ways the GardenWorks Project helps provide fresh produce to households facing food insecurity.

The nonprofit has been helping people create and maintain successful gardens in DuPage County since 2012. Its primary focus is to teach people how to grow their own food so they can improve both their health and a sustainable local food economy for the future. Through its partnerships, the organization gives food-insecure clients the resources needed to successfully grow and harvest an edible garden. 

“We try to find individuals in need who want to learn,” says executive director Jeannie Iseman, “and help them supplement food pantry donations with homegrown, fresh ingredients.” Participants receive a 4-by-8-foot raised-bed garden, including soil, compost, seeds, and tools, and are taught effective growing techniques. The nonprofit also offers balcony boxes to those who rent or live in apartments, and it often works with landlords to let those people use land outside their building. 

Growing Community

The GardenWorks Project encourages both backyard and community gardeners to donate their excess harvest to those in need. For a $25 fee, seasoned and new gardeners alike are welcome to join its Food Growers Network. Members receive seed packets, discounts on materials, and access to all the nonprofit’s educational events and resources, including training on properly harvesting food to maximize donations. “If every individual home were to grow for themselves, we could have millions of pounds of produce available for individuals within the region,” Iseman explains. “We’ve seen this work historically with the victory gardens grown during wartime.”

Due to the pandemic, interest in this pastime has increased. “We saw tremendous gardens this past year because people wanted to be outside and had more time to tend to them,” Iseman says. “It was a really successful gardening year in spite of all the hardship.” Seeing those pandemic-related hardships in the community is what spurred the group to seek out better ways to connect gardeners with food pantries. 

After learning about the success of the Fresh Food Connect app in the Denver area, the nonprofit launched it in the western suburbs. Users can download the app from the App Store, Google Play, and gardenworksproject.org.  

Photos courtesy the GardenWorks Project