Food banks serving struggling families are receiving healthier donations.
Homegrown fruits and vegetables are finding their way to food bank shelves across the Palouse due to efforts by Backyard Harvest, a Moscow-based organization.
Backyard Harvest began “on accident” in 2007, according to Chris Cummings, program coordinator. Cummings said the non-profit organization began after Moscow resident and gardener Amy Grey unknowingly grew 200 heads of lettuce—much more than her family could consume.
Instead of enlarging her compost pile, Grey decided to donate the extra produce to her local food bank, leading to the birth of Backyard Harvest.
Cummings said as the operation grew, they were able to reach areas outside of Moscow. After recently expanding into Pullman, donations now reach the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. They hope to soon expand to La Crosse, Wash.
Local gardeners and orchard owners are the greatest contributors to the organization, Cummings said. Since its founding, Backyard Harvest has donated over 150,000 pounds of produce.
Cummings called the organization paramount to the health and welfare of needy families.
“This is one of the pressing issues of our time,” he said. “People are becoming more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies.”
University involvement is rising, Cummings said. The University of Idaho provides funding to interns, which helps alleviate costs. WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement now offers volunteer opportunities with the organization.
Churches in the area are also providing assistance. Cummings said Community Congregational United Church of Christ in Pullman and Peace Lutheran Church in Colfax both own gardens, which grow produce to be donated.
Pullman City Councilman Nathan Weller believes the organization is a positive force in the community. He said if the organization continues to prosper, its impact could be widespread.
“This is a wonderful up-and-coming operation,” Weller said at a city council meeting Tuesday evening. “They’re on the cutting edge, and are receiving a lot of community involvement.”
WSU senior agriculture and food systems major Amanda Mattingly volunteers with Backyard Harvest and said the organization is always in need of more help. She explained that it is easy to get involved.
“It’s pretty easy to grow quite a bit of food,” Mattingly said. “I have friends who simply grew produce on their apartment balcony, and it fed a lot of people.”
Apart from collecting and donating food, the organization provides education on healthy eating habits. Mattingly said she distributes pamphlets with fun, kid-friendly recipes on them to promote better nutrition.
Mattingly described volunteering with Backyard Harvest as “rewarding,” and encourages students to join them.
“You get to work with people who genuinely care,” she said. “When we drop off the donations, people get so excited. They just say thank you a million times.”