The University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners have kicked off their summer produce collection for the “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program.
It’s meant to inspire gardeners and farmers to “plant an extra row” to provide fruits and vegetables for people in need. All the food collected for the program is donated to local food pantries.
Margaret Larson is the County Extension Director for University of Illinois. She says they have partners in the community who weigh the produce, keep track of it, and deliver it to the pantry at the end of the day.
“The idea is that it's not going to sit in our refrigerator or sit in our office until someone feels like delivering it,” Larson said. “We want to deliver it so it is as fresh as can be for those people who are clients of the food pantry.”
According to Larson, the program started at a national level in the 1990s before a group of Master Gardeners brought the program to Winnebago County in the early 2000s.
She estimates about 20,000 pounds of produce get donated each year.
“We're grateful for everyone who takes that step and makes sure that they don't let anything go to waste, and they make sure the food, the fresh produce, ends up in the hands and mouths and stomachs and people who really need it,” Larson said.
Larson says the program is a bit behind on donations this year because of the weather. That’s not stopping them, though.
“We expect to have a usual year of people just opening their hearts and sharing their produce with others,” Larson said. “Our food pantries are very grateful for the produce that is shared with them.”
The program has collection points at eight different locations in Winnebago County.