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North Dakota growers asked to produce 250,000 pounds of food to fight hunger

FARGO — The state’s agriculture commissioner challenged gardeners across North Dakota on Tuesday to grow 250,000 pounds of produce for those in need.

Doug Goehring said he wants the Hunger Free ND Garden Project, now in its fifth season, to surpass previous donation records and help curb food insecurity across the state.

About one in 10 North Dakota residents go without a meal every day, Goehring said at a news conference in Fargo. Children make up about 40 percent of that group.

The garden project, which began as a partnership between the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the Great Plains Food Bank of Fargo, has since brought in almost a million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables, Goehring said.

Organizers have received a few large donations, such as a field of sweet corn. But most contributions come from everyday gardeners simply planting a few extra fruits and vegetables to bring to their local food pantry or soup kitchen.

Food insecurity, or the lack of access to healthy food, affected more than 17 million U.S. households in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It’s a problem in both rural and urban areas, Goehring said.

Those suffering from food insecurity often have no reliable means to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, said Steve Sellent, program director of the Great Plains Food Bank.

The Hunger Free ND Garden Project is designed to fulfill that need while raising awareness about food insecurity.

Just a few years ago, the Great Plains Food Bank had comparatively few fruits and vegetables available. Last year, thanks to the garden program, produce made up a third of the food the bank distributed, Sellent said.

The food bank has even started dropping off large amounts of produce in some rural counties, Sellent said.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service, another garden project partner, hopes to grow its Master Gardener Program to ramp up donations.

The Master Gardener Program teaches residents how to garden effectively, and those residents can then educate others. Esther McGinnis, who directs the program at NDSU, said it can help gardeners grow more produce to meet Goehring’s goal.

“It just makes sense to match this need with this wonderful bounty,” McGinnis said.