The NDSU Extension Master Gardener Program and Fargo Public Library are partnering to support food pantries with fresh produce.
"COVID-19 has temporarily changed our economy," said Esther McGinnis, NDSU Extension horticulturist. "In recent years, North Dakota has enjoyed one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. While current unemployment rates have not been calculated, they will be sobering to even the most stoic individual. In other states, high unemployment has resulted in long lines at food pantries. According to the Great Plains Food Bank, North Dakota food pantries are reporting a 44 percent increase in demand."
The Fargo Public Library intended to start a seed library for the 2020 growing season to benefit its patrons. The library, in conjunction with Friends of the Fargo Public Library, acquired vegetable seeds during the winter from seed companies. Extension Master Gardeners in Cass County repackaged the seeds in small envelopes for free distribution through the library system.
However, the libraries closed due to COVID-19, which meant that the seed library could not be accessed by the public in time for spring planting. To prevent the vegetable seeds from going to waste, the entire seed library was donated to the NDSU Extension Master Gardener Program to benefit food pantries across the state.
The Extension Master Gardener Program has distributed the seeds to 18 NDSU Extension county offices. Master Gardeners, 4-H youth and avid gardeners in those counties will sow the seeds primarily in home gardens, care for the plants and harvest the fresh vegetables for donation to local food pantries. Food safety protocols will be followed to ensure safe harvesting and handling of the produce.
"You do not need to be an Extension Master Gardener to help others in need,” McGinnis said. “Every home gardener should consider planting an extra row or two of vegetable crops in your garden for donation to local food pantries. If you are a container gardener on your apartment balcony, consider adding an extra container. With widespread unemployment and food insecurity across the state, we will be feeding our friends and neighbors."
Fresh vegetable crops that are in the most demand at food pantries include beans, peas, beets, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers, tomatoes and melons.
Consult the North Dakota Department of Agriculture Hunger Free Garden Project website for its produce donation site map.