Food insecurity is a deadly issue that millions of Americans face every single day.
But all hope is not lost, as Gary Oppenheimer, a West Milford resident and creator of AmpleHarvest.org, puts it: “The solution to hunger is actually in your backyard.”
When one thinks of a food pantry, things like pasta, canned goods, and fruit cups come to mind. Fresh fruits and vegetables typically don’t make that list.
Officially launched in 2009, AmpleHarvest.org is a global initiative that works with more than 9,000 food pantries in more than 4,200 communities across the country and eventually in Puerto Rico to provide those in need with fresh, healthy, and locally grown produce.
In turn, the effort is changing the way we view food pantries and what they can provide within their communities.
AmpleHarvest.org provides an extensive database of food pantries within a 15- to 100-mile radius after entering any given zip code. Not only is this helpful for those looking to receive from a food pantry but it also aids in connecting local small yield farmers and gardeners with places to donate their surplus produce.
An active community of gardeners, farmers and harvesters
Here in West Milford, there is an active community of gardeners, farmers and harvesters who work to provide fresh produce during the spring and summer months to local food pantries, which include those at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady Queen of Peace, the Holy Faith Lutheran Church and the West Milford Presbyterian Church.
This program aims “to connect our local gardeners and share the message of the value of sharing excess produce with our local food pantries” said Cathy Bruce, coordinator of Ample Harvest West Milford.
Ample Harvest West Milford has been able to donate about 175 pounds of fresh produce per year in each of the last 11 years, Bruce added.
Volunteers at Apple Acres and Wallisch Homestead
Ample Harvest West Milford and AmpleHarvest.org are always encouraging those who can donate to do so.
Locally, Ample Harvest West Milford works with volunteers at both Apple Acres, located at 1064 Union Valley Road in West Milford and Wallisch Homestead at 65 Lincoln Ave. also in West Milford. Here volunteers can help to maintain the plots and harvest the produce which is then delivered to local food pantries.
Home gardeners can donate as well
Home gardeners are encouraged to plan a little extra space in their gardens from which they may donate by themselves.
Those without a green thumb who would still like to support the initiative can donate financially to AmpleHarvest.org which is just as needed as food donations. A one-time donation of just $10 after five years will have provided 819 servings of produce and 94,844 servings after 20 years (https://ampleharvest.org/impact/).
One of the most important things you can do right now is to spread the word: The more backyards working to end food insecurity, the better.