By Robyn Pforr Ryan

Founded in 2009, educates home gardeners on how donating their excess produce can help alleviate hunger and malnutrition in their community, and connects them to more than 7,680 registered food pantries nationwide. Here, founder Gary Oppenheimer talks to Specialty Food News about his organization and how a 2016 Specialty Food Foundation grant will help him further his mission.


What prompted your organization to do what you do, and why is it so important for you to continue your mission? 

As a master gardener, and a Rutgers-trained Environmental Steward aware of hunger, I had an idea about how gardeners could use the millions of pounds of food that would otherwise rot in their gardens to feed hungry people in their communities. We’re talking about giving them access to freshly harvested healthy food, the kind that can impact diabetes and childhood obesity. Environmentally, there is a reduced carbon footprint when people are eating locally grown fresh produce. The biggest impact is with community involvement. As a gardener, I now know that St. Mary’s, or the Beth Shalom, or the YMCA Food Pantry wants and could use my excess food, and for the rest of my gardening life I can donate to them. 


What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced? 

We were solving a problem most people don’t know about, the waste of food. Everybody gets hunger, but when you start framing it as program to use the food we already have to nourish people in our community, that is a mindset that is not familiar to most foundations. The biggest challenge has been funding the work.


And what are some of the biggest rewards?

The best thing has been empowering people who don’t think of themselves as game-changers. Anybody can make a difference, anybody on a farm or with a backyard can make it possible for our nation to become healthier.


How will the grant from the Specialty Food Foundation help your organization? 

We brought in two people to help with fundraising to support the small staff we need, and the technology and insurance. We’re also using part of the money for an education program, and to get 20 percent more food pantries online this year, up to about 9,000. If you’re a gardener but can’t find a food pantry that is convenient, you won’t donate.


What’s next? 

We want to expand the number of pantries and number of gardeners. Eventually, I’d like to develop a similar program focusing on the farmer or large landholder, connecting them with gleaning organizations that will come in and harvest the fruit left on the ground and donate it.


What are some ways people can help? 

Support our work with a check of any amount, make sure the food pantry in your community has signed up and that local gardeners know about us, and connect us to local media. Lastly, we are expanding our board. We are particularly interested in getting more women involved and a better dispersion across the country. 

 Related: Specialty Food Foundation Funds 23 Anti-Hunger Programs; Q&A: Sarah Nelson, Executive Director, 18 Reasons.