Growing Gifts: The Facts About Produce Donation

      Posted On: November 1, 2009

by Sarah Johnson Whether your farm has brought too many tomatoes to the market, or your family has endured one too many nights of green bean casserole, one question is probably all too familiar: What do I do with all this extra produce? Rather than drastically cut prices, a more rewarding option for growers might be to donate the produce and stock someone else’s shelves instead. But how can it be done? To get advice, we brainstormed with Gary Oppenheimer, a community garden director in West Milford, New Jersey and the founder of, a web resource facilitating produce donation, and came up with the following ideas for farmers and markets.

For the farmer…

–Ask your farmers market if it facilitates produce donation. Many farmers markets will help collect produce and take it to food banks and pantries at the end of the market day. –Consider food pantries. An avid gardener, Oppenheimer once found himself with 40 pounds of extra produce on his hands and took it to a women’s shelter. When the woman at the door exclaimed, “Now we can have some fresh produce!”, Oppenheimer realized that most shelters and pantries only have access to syrupy sweet canned fruits and sodium-laden canned vegetables. While food banks—the operations distributing to soup kitchens and food pantries—may have refrigeration, the typical walk-in food pantry for families in need does not. Farmers and home gardeners can get produce to food pantries sooner after harvest than can food banks or grocery stores, thus making fresh produce an option where it otherwise would not be. –Remember that every little bit helps. So you have one head of lettuce too many but 40 pounds of extra okra? Don’t leave the lettuce at home. Food pantries are frequented by families, and one head of lettuce might be just what the family needs to have a salad that night. Plus, someone else in the community might have bushels of extra lettuce but only a handful of okra. –Don’t forget about tax deductions. Although helping to alleviate hunger is certainly incentive enough for produce donation, alleviating tax-time woes can be a nice side benefit.  Neil Hamilton at Drake University Agricultural Law Center reminds that “the Good Samaritan Hunger Relief Tax Incentive Program allows farmers and small business owners to receive a tax deduction for donating food to banks, pantries, and homeless shelters.”  The value of the deduction allowed under this program is either the fair market value—the price of the food at the time of donation—or two times cost, whichever is lesser.  However, be aware that the deduction is currently only good for food donated in 2009—the program expires at the end of this year. A bill introduced to Congress this summer intends to permanently extend the program, so now is the time to let your congressmen know the importance of keeping the tax donation alive in 2010 and beyond. For more information about tax deductions, see –Find a gleaning group. If you’ve got too much extra or seconds produce to harvest yourself, a gleaning group may visit your farm, pick your produce, and bring it to food pantries for you.

For the farmers market…

–Look online. When Oppenheimer tried to facilitate produce donation for his community garden, a thorough search in the phone book demonstrated that food pantries can be tricky to find. In response, he started, where food pantries interested in fresh produce donation can register their location and hours. In only its 17th week of operation, has 915 food pantries listed. Take a look—you very well might find one near you. –Help coordinate the donation of produce by your vendors at the end of the market day. Need some inspiration? Look at the seven Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets—in 2008, they donated a combined total of 40,343 pounds of produce to local food banks. –Inform your customers about produce donation options. The produce at your market is probably so fresh, healthful, and enticing that many customers pick up more than they can eat—let them know what they can do with it, so they keep coming back to the market for more. Find maps of food pantries closest to your market at and hand them out to your shoppers, or just direct them to donation-facilitating websites like or