K-LOVE's Positive People - by Susan Miller (complete Podcast available)  (more Positive People stories) 

You grew way too many tomatoes this year. Your zucchini went crazy. And what in world will you do with all those cucumbers?

What if you could donate all your extra veggies?

“The gardeners across America hate wasting food,” says Gary Oppenheimer founder of an innovative online matching service called AmpleHarvest.org. He is a lifelong gardener who once saw his own bountiful backyard as both a blessing and a curse. “I found out the hard way,” he laughs, “you can only give so much zucchini to friends and still call the them a friend.” So along with fellow growers he devised a solution: connect local backyard gardeners with food pantries, women’s shelters or feeding programs that would welcome fresh vegetables.

The concept is simple. “You’re a gardener with too much food in your garden, click on ‘find a pantry,’ put in your zip code and up with come a list of food pantries that have signed up at AmpleHarvest.org.” He admits that many pantries specify non-perishables only, but the thousands of pantries listed on his site have worked out a plan for receiving the nutritious, fresh food. The key is timing. The food pantry lets the gardener know the best days and times to harvest and deliver. The pantry then arranges to have hungry families come in and get the fresh veggies the same day. With this careful planning there is no need to worry about storage or refrigeration because the fresh food goes home just hours off the vine.

Oppenheimer insists no donation is too small. “The nutrition in your garden provides one tomato, one cucumber at a time and places it in the pantry so that the community can benefit from it.”

Churches are essential to making this happen, Oppenheimer says, pointing out that 70-percent of food pantries are located in houses of worship. He realized that faith-based groups had been largely left out of the discussion about ending hunger in America, which prompts him to host an annual awareness campaign each September called Food Waste Weekend

The website provides free Bible-based sermons for church leaders.

“It’s important for the ministers and the priests to both say this is what our teachings, our theology our beliefs say about the waste of food.”

Oppenheimer believes giving gardeners a way to donate and engaging faith leaders to educate the faith-based public plants seeds for a permanent solution. He is convinced. “We can end hunger by using the food we already have.”