The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteers Program is asking gardeners to consider growing extra produce to donate to local food pantries again this year.

Many pantries have trouble offering fresh produce to their clients and this is a great way to share your garden’s bounty, says Barbara Murphy, extension educator in the Oxford County office and coordinator of the Maine Harvest for Hunger program (previously known as Plant-A-Row for the Hungry). The program coordinates volunteers, helps them connect with local food pantries and provides advice about what to grow and when to harvest. In 2010, the program provided more than 200,000 pounds of produce to Maine food pantries. The goal for 2011 is 225,000 pounds, and there are many ways to help.

Gardeners can dedicate part of their garden for donation to the food pantry. That might be a row of carrots or half the patch of winter squash. Others prefer to donate produce they won’t use that is still of good quality. Either way works, says Murphy. She suggests gardeners contact local food pantries in advance to find out what type of produce they need and what they can handle. This will help gardeners know what to plant and deliver.

Carrots, potatoes, onions and winter squash are all relatively easy for pantries to store and handle. Since many food pantries have limited hours, gardeners should find out when they can deliver produce. No space for a garden? Gardeners may be able to work with others in a community garden to grow produce for a local food pantry.

For more information or to enroll in the Maine Harvest for Hunger program, visit: umaine.edu/harvest-for-hunger/, or contact Murphy at 743-6329, 1-800-287-1482 (toll free in Maine) or email barbara.murphy@maine.edu.