The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Plant-A-Row for the Hungry Program has set a goal of collecting 125,000 pounds of fresh produce from volunteer gardeners across the state, a significant increase from the 87,319 pounds donated last year to food pantries, shelters and charitable organizations.

The Plant-A-Row program engages nearly 200 Master Gardener volunteers across the state in growing, gleaning and distributing food for Maine residents who are hungry. Since 2000, volunteers have raised, gathered and donated more than 350 tons, or 703,609 pounds, of fresh produce.

“During Maine’s growing and harvest season, Extension volunteers with the support of Extension employees produce and gather fresh fruit and vegetables for distribution to 45 Maine food pantries and soup kitchens,” said Barbara Murphy, Extension educator in the Oxford County office who coordinates the program.

Although difficult to estimate how many individuals are served by the program since food is donated to pantries that serve other organizations as well as individuals, thousands of Maine residents benefit from fresh produce introduced in the mix of donated foods across the state.

Murphy said the program is growing, but needs to grow more. She is working to raise awareness of the opportunity for backyard gardeners and others to “plant an extra row” to donate to one of many drop-off locations in Maine.

Donated fruits and vegetables increase in volume each year, as does the number of gardeners participating in the program, but so too does the need.

In spite of the generosity of Maine gardeners, the need is never met. “With as much as we do each year, it’s not even close to meeting the need,” Murphy said.

For more information and to participate, contact Murphy at barbara.murphy@maine.edu or 800-287-1482.