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Master Gardeners distribute garden produce to food pantries in North Dakota

NDSU Extension Master Gardeners encouraged and assisted North Dakota gardeners to grow and donate extra produce to food pantries during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Master Gardeners distribute garden produce to food pantries in North Dakota

USDA photo

June 2, 2021

Like many projects planned in the winter of 2019-2020, a program to distribute free vegetable seeds through the Fargo Public Library changed to help prevent food insecurity by growing fresh produce for food pantries across the state.

The Fargo Public Library and its advocacy group, the Friends of the Fargo Public Library, acquired seed during the winter and worked with Cass County NDSU Extension Master Gardeners to repackage the bulk seed for free distribution through the library system. However, when the library closed in March due to COVID-19 safety regulations, that plan was halted. But NDSU Extension Horticulturist and Master Gardener Coordinator Esther McGinnis was not deterred and developed a plan to distribute the seed to Master Gardeners to grow produce for food pantries across the state. The seed was distributed by local county Extension agents in sixteen counties, and 11,787 pounds of garden produce was ultimately donated to county food banks and other collection sites.

Several other gardening programs in the Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN area also cooperate with the NDSU Extension Master Gardeners to share garden produce; namely Veggies for the Pantry and Growing Together.

Veggies for the Pantry has grown steadily since its start in 2016 by Cass County NDSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Each year, from mid-July to the first frost of the season, these volunteers staff weekly collection points in Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth, and collect and deliver directly to food pantries in the area. The collection sites are advertised widely and donations have increased from over 2000 pounds in 2016 to more than 14,000 pounds in 2020.  

Growing Together started in two Fargo churches. The program consists of six community gardens, which are maintained by more than 200 volunteers, mostly new Americans. Master Gardeners manage the program, assist the volunteers and deliver any extra produce to food pantries.  

Through these and other statewide collection programs, the NDSU Extension Master Gardener program donated and delivered 38,308 pounds of produce during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. McGinnis is encouraged by the success of these fresh produce collection efforts. “As Master Gardeners, we have the knowledge and tools to be a blessing to our communities even while maintaining social distancing,” she says. 

Veggies for the Pantry will continue in 2021 and Food Pantry Grants will be available for Master Gardeners statewide to plant dedicated gardens or extra rows in their own gardens to grow produce to donate.

For more information, check out the pages below.

Author: Karen Hertsgaard,

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