This summer when your tomato plants hang heavy with fruit and your squash vines go into overdrive, pack up your excess produce and take it to area food banks.
That's the message Washington State University Master Gardeners are trying to get out into the community of gardeners.
"If even just a few people would do that, it will make a difference," said Master Gardener Dave Hammond of Kennewick.
This is the third year the Master Gardeners have coordinated the Plant a Row for the Hungry program in Benton and Franklin counties. The local chairman is Master Gardener Bill Dixon.
Last year, Dixon said, gardeners reported donating about 16,000 pounds of fresh produce -- veggies, fruits, even herbs.
"At an average value of about $2 per pound, those donations provided about $32,000 of fresh produce to needy families in our communities," Dixon said.
Almost 2,000 pounds of the total produce donated came from the Master Gardeners' Demonstration Garden on Union Street in Kennewick, next to the library.
"Generally, in mid- to late summer, we'll harvest anywhere from 50 to 150 pounds of mixed produce at one time," said Hammond.
Donations don't have to be on a regular basis or in great quantities.
"People can take even a little baggy of something. You definitely don't have to wait until you have a 5-gallon bucketful," said Master Gardener Alicia Boyd of Richland.
Anyone can participate in the program; you don't even have to plant an extra row.
"Sure, the tag line says to plant extra, but the reality is most gardeners already do that," joked Boyd.
"There's a long tradition of neighbors sharing produce through the back gate or over the fence. This program is trying to use that to better advantage in the community by helping people, especially those in need, eat more healthy foods," said Boyd.
Food banks can use anything you grow, and in the spring, even seeds and seedlings.
On Friday, the Tri-Cities Food Bank in Kennewick received a donation of almost 200 pounds of vegetable seedlings -- tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, cabbage. Food bank volunteers gave them away to anyone who came in and said they had a place to grow them, said Kuki Benson, site manager for the Kennewick Tri-Cities Food Bank.
Another man, earlier in the week, had brought in 30 pounds of fresh mustard greens from his garden. And there's another resident who usually brings in fresh dill every spring, Benson said.
"Food banks seldom turn anything away. If it will help people cook a healthy meal, why not? It may make the other foods they get at the food bank tastier," said Boyd.
The Plant a Row program, was started by Alaskan garden writer Jeff Lowenfels and adopted by the Garden Writers Association in 1995. Since then the concept of planting extra veggies earmarked for donation has been spreading across the nation.
Every gardener in Benton and Franklin counties is welcome to participate in the Master Gardeners' program. All Dixon asks is that they contact him at 509-531-5913 or email@example.com to sign up.
"Once they do, we can provide them with a list of donation sites, free seeds and free seedlings, when available. This is also how we get their email addresses to request their year-end reports on the amount of produce donated," he said.
Dixon keeps a running list of participants. This year, the list has grown to about 600 gardeners.
Dixon has arranged for 15 drop-off locations -- some can accept produce daily, some only on certain days. Call in advance to be sure there's space at the food bank for your donation.
Drop-off locations are:
-- First United Methodist, 703 W. Clark St., Pasco, 509-547-9731, 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
-- Salvation Army, 310 N. Fourth Ave., Pasco, 509-547-2138, 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
-- Pasco Community Food Bank, 605 Road 36, Pasco, 509-547-4998, 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday.
-- Golden Age Food Share, 504 S. Oregon St., Pasco, 509-547-8310, 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
-- St. Vincent DePaul Food Bank, 115 W. Lewis St., Pasco, 509-544-9315, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.
-- Union Gospel Mission, 112 N. Second Ave., Pasco, 509-845-1800 or 509-547-2112, 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.
-- Pasco Christian Church Food Bank, 1524 W. Marie St., Pasco, 509-545-8589, 3 to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
-- Tri-Cities Food Bank, 420 W. Deschutes Ave., Kennewick, 509-586-0688, 7:30 p.m. to noon Monday-Friday.
-- Harvest Outreach, 120 W. Railroad Ave., Kennewick, 509-582-9064 or 509-366-4495, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Wednesday.
-- Tri-Cities Food Bank, 321 Wellsian Way, Richland, 509-943-2795, 7:30 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday.
-- Salvation Army, 1219 Thayer Drive, Richland, 509-943-7977, 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
-- Jericho Food Ministries, 2500 Jericho Road, Richland, 509-627-0750, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday.
-- Jubilee Ministries Food Bank, 1429 Stacy St., Prosser, 509-786-3033 or 509-781-0976, 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday.
-- Tri-Cities Food Bank, 712 10th St., Benton City, 509-588-5454, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays and noon to 2:30 p.m. or 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays.
-- Connell Food Bank, 124 N. Columbia, Connell, 509-234-0243, 9 to 11 a.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org