West Milford: 10th Anniversary of Mission To Get Fresh Produce To Food Pantries

Source: NorthJersey.com Passaic

It took Gary Oppenheimer four hours to conceive the website that would change his life and possibly the mindset of gardeners throughout the world. It took two more months for the website to go live and 11 more for it to spawn a nationally-recognized nonprofit.

Now, nearly 10 years after the launch of AmpleHarvest.org in May 2009, Oppenheimer said his dream is for his creation to die by making it second nature for gardeners to share their backyard bounty with their neighbors in need via their local food pantry.

Judith Rabner, a registered dietitian based in Montclair, said the impact of introducing or adding fresh produce into more than 8,000 pantries could result in significantly healthier lifestyles for pantry clients. The nutrients that would otherwise evaporate in the food waste cycle would certainly be better used by those in need.

The mantra for AmpleHarvest.org has been “no food left behind.”

Developed by Oppenheimer after he became the director of West Milford’s community garden in late 2008, the campaign allowed garden plot holders to tag their produce for donation to area food pantries rather than leave it to rot.

AmpleHarvest.org has found people willing to help donate produce that might otherwise be wasted. During a 2015 study of 2,500 backyard gardeners supported by Cisco Systems, the nonprofit found four in five gardeners were willing to donate their excess produce. Of them, two in four would be willing to grow produce more just to donate it.

In his efforts to simultaneously reduce food waste and hunger, Oppenheimer has been recognized by former first lady Michelle Obama, named a CNN Hero and honored with a Points of Light tribute award.

AmpleHarvest.org is a call to action that defies the conventional definition of a nonprofit and confounds some potential donors. Foundation officials often ask Oppenheimer how many people his organization has fed and how much food his organization has donated.

Recently, Oppenheimer launched a program to sponsor food pantries on his website for $10 per month and a social media campaign to raise money thought direct text messages tagged #SquashHunger. The money goes to support spreading a message that could be a permanent solution to undernourishment and garden waste.

Oppenheimer said his father taught him to garden and his daughter is now testing her green thumb. When she inevitably finds herself with too much squash, she’ll know what to do with it, he said.

“It has been immensely rewarding and it’s not due to what I do, it’s what I’m enabling others to do,” hew said. “We’ve tapped into the passion of gardeners not to waste food. We’re enabling people to donate, people who have wanted to do it all along.”

Click here to donate to AmpleHarvest.org.

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