Food bank happy to add your extra zucchini to fresh offerings

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 3, 2013 

I coordinate agricultural programs at Bellingham Food Bank, and it's my privilege to ask you for your extra zucchini. Why? Because I know two things that maybe you don't; the first is that if you're a gardener, you'll have it; the second is that the food bank could use it.

We gladly accept donations Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. No quantities are too large or small.

I know you're not currently burdened with this perennial good fortune of home gardening, but perhaps the week-and-a-half of gorgeous weather we had in March convinced you as it did me that gardening season would eventually arrive and that you'd be able to put your winter's worth of seed ordering, tool shed organizing and veggie plot planning into action. Well, that time has arrived.

Perhaps like you, every year my months of winter planning give birth to grandiose plans for my backyard. Well, we Northwesterners come by it naturally. Whatcom County is blessed with some of the finest agricultural soil in the world, we have ample water, and it's not unheard of in the Puget Sound to have uninterrupted sun for months. There's good reason after all that Whatcom is home to a strong agricultural economy, a thriving farmers market, passionate community gardeners and one other thing that many communities don't have: a food bank with a major focus on fresh and healthy food.

One in six residents of Bellingham depends upon Bellingham Food Bank each year, a ratio that equates to more than 10,300 visits to our food bank each and every month. Among the food items clients list as most wanted are fresh vegetables.

In Eleanor Roosevelt's day, growing food at home to help our troops win WWII was called Victory Gardening, and we're borrowing a page from the history books to help communicate the idea that food banks want and need donations of fresh and healthy food as much as we're grateful to receive staple items like pasta, rice and beans.

One head of lettuce at a time, donations for our Victory Garden campaign already amount to between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of produce each year. Add this to the 240,000 pounds of produce harvested annually by Bellingham Food Bank's Small Potatoes Gleaning Project volunteers, more than 40,000 pounds we buy on contract from local farms through our Food Bank Fresh program, and more than 500,000 pounds donated by grocery stores, and we're looking at fruit and vegetables accounting for over 16 percent of the 5 million pounds of food we distribute to Bellingham residents and other area food banks each year. That's still far less than we'd like to give families struggling to afford enough nutritious food, and it's far less than what the USDA recommends is a healthy diet.

Bellingham Food Bank is Whatcom County's largest emergency food provider and the central distribution agency for 12 other food banks in Whatcom and San Juan counties. Most food banks struggle to have enough fresh items for their clients, and while we live in a very generous community full of people and businesses that regularly donate to hunger relief efforts, many people don't know that food banks can and are excited to receive donations of fresh food.

The good news is that our food bank is equipped with a commercial refrigerator, crews of amazing volunteers who sort all donations, and a staff eager to work with fresh produce. This is where you come in. What we want are those extras from the giant garden you're planning, even your giant zucchini.

Don't have all the seeds you need? Our donation door is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it's located at the back of our building at 1824 Ellis St. We've got a rack full of free Victory Garden seeds. This is also where you can bring your garden's bounty. We even want those baseball bat zucchinis.

Perhaps you're new to gardening but would like to try it out this year with your family, your friends or your church group? Bellingham Food Bank's Garden Project has developed a Growing Guide with information on how to start your own garden. It's available for free on our website, bellinghamfoodbank.org

Want to yard sign to promote what you're doing and help us spread the message that the food bank wants your extra produce? We've got those too; they're available to the first 50 gardeners to contact us at glean@bellinghamfoodbank.org

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Max Morange is agricultural programs coordinator at the Bellingham Food Bank.

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