What if we could plant our vegetable gardens so that we would have all the fresh, healthy veggies we want — and no more? We could count how many viable fruits we’d get from each tomato seed. We’d be able to anticipate that record-setting rainy week in May, the fungus that followed and the dry spell around July 4. We would know the dog would uproot seven carrots and bunnies would consume a row and a half of spinach. We could allow for the blight that would show up in late June.
We couldn’t do a thing to change any of the above, mind you — that would only complicate matters. If such capabilities ever become reality, I will still probably not want to do the math required. Unless there’s an app for that.
In the meantime, unless a particular crop is a bust for whatever reason, we seem to end up with more of it than we can possibly eat or pass along to our friends, neighbors and coworkers. Someone I know even came up with a funny tale about a gardening couple who resorted to leaving bags full of zucchini on strangers’ doorsteps in the dead of night. It seems to be the universe’s way of reminding us that what we put out there will in fact come back to us in greater measure. So we’d better be ready to make the best use of it. Wasting food, especially if you survived the Great Depression or have parents who did, is not a good thing.
You can preserve the surplus for later if you are properly equipped and know what you’re doing. The Purdue Extension Service in Allen County offers “Preserving Nature’s Bounty” workshops on safe procedures for canning, freezing and drying foods. The remaining sessions this season are at 1 p.m. Aug. 5 and 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at the extension office, 4001 Crescent Ave. on the IPFW campus. The cost is $3; call (260) 481-6826 or visit www.extension.purdue.edu/allen. That website will link you to other resources and publications on home food preservation.
Here’s another idea: Find a way to get your excess produce to those who might not otherwise have access to fresh fruits and veggies. You’re not just providing food for those in need; you are providing them with healthy food options. There is probably not a person on this earth, rich or poor, who could not benefit from more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Of the nearly 13 million pounds of food Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana distributed last year, only a small percentage is donated by home gardeners. “But we would very much like for that to change,” said Andy Bullinger, food sourcing manager for Community Harvest.
Anyone can donate produce at Community Harvest, 999 E. Tillman Road, 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, he said. Paper bags are better than plastic, and produce should be clean. (Consumers are advised nevertheless to wash all produce before peeling, cooking or eating it raw. Bullinger recommends using distilled water; it’s safe, inexpensive and adds no chemicals to the food.)
All produce is welcome, including edible herbs and leafy greens. “We have a very diverse client base, so a large variety of crops are encouraged for donation,” Bullinger said. “We do not want crops that are not fit for consumption but are always looking to expand the choices that we offer.”
Community Harvest is also looking to partner with area growers of carrots, corn, potatoes and green beans for the introduction of its Blanch, Chill and Freeze operation this fall.
Other donation sites
• Forest Park United Methodist Church, 2100 Kentucky Ave., runs a food pantry that is open 10 a.m.-noon Tuesday and Saturday. The church will accept any donated produce as long as items are whole and uncut; donated items may be brought to the church 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Thursday.
• St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, 1101 Lafayette St., accepts garden vegetables for making the soup, says food service director Diane Day. “We dice a lot of the veggies and then freeze them and use them all winter in our soup,” she said. “Whatever vegetables we cannot use in the soup we pass out to our clients.” Donations can be brought in when the kitchen is open: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
• You can also visit www.ampleharvest.org and enter your address or ZIP code to find nearby food pantries that accept donated produce.