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Saturday, August 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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How to share your harvest with those who are hungry

Special to The Seattle Times

Thirty years ago I had an ancient apple tree that tumbled bushels to the ground. One morning I noticed a stranger inside my yard, gathering fallen apples. He told me he had endured starvation during World War II and to this day can't stand to see food wasted.

I remember that visitor when I think of donating food, especially during harvest time.

American abundance sometimes separates us from the needs of others, and now that harvest season is upon us, it's a great time to look at what our gardens hold in surplus.

Western Washington hums like a beehive with donation opportunities, especially to food banks.

Garden produce donations

There's no denying the value of fresh, local vegetables, herbs and small fruits.

To find a food bank or meal program convenient to you, go to Lettuce Link at the Fremont Public Association: www.fremontpublic.org/client/food.html#LettuceLink.

As for what you should donate from your own garden, "pick only the best, what you would eat yourself," advises Lettuce Link coordinator Michelle Bates-Benetua.

Wash and bag the produce before donating it. Individual food banks will give you details on what they need and how you can prepare it.

Be sure to check when the food bank is open so you can time your donation to arrive in prime edible condition.

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"Sometimes food will wait a day or two before it's distributed, so it should be ready, and not dead ripe," Bates-Benetua said.

Tree fruit donations

Perhaps you didn't plant the crop, but it's ripening and falling into your yard. Volunteers from a new program called Community Fruit Tree Harvest, also part of the Fremont Public Association, will pick the fruit and deliver it to food banks.

Tree fruit donations by mid-August had already passed 440 pounds, more than all of last year's gleaning, with the major harvesting season ahead.

Bates-Benetua says she's delighted to see the pleasure volunteers take in the project, in its second year.

This year, some volunteers assisted in organic pest prevention at homes that donated last year, she said, "to help this year's crop thrive."

Currently, program volunteers are picking from trees in Seattle's Wallingford, Phinney Ridge and Green Lake areas.

To donate tree fruit if you live in these areas, call the Natural Lawn and Garden Hotline at 206-633-0224 or e-mail info@lawnandgardenhotline.org. Or you can help pick and prepare the fruit for donation, or help distribute flyers, scout trees, sort fruit or drive.

To volunteer, call Lettuce Link at 206-694-6754 or e-mail Bates-Benetua at michelleb@fremontpublic.org.Harvesting happens twice a week in two-hour shifts, either Tuesday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., or Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon, through October. Bates-Benetua encourages other neighborhoods to start community fruit tree harvests.

No fruit or vegetables?

What if you don't grow fruit or vegetables? Food banks and other food donation programs always need hands, feet and cash. Check the Web site at www.fremontpublic.org to find a food bank in your area.

You can also support food banks and farmers by buying organic produce at a farmer's market and donating it. Be sure to keep it properly refrigerated before donating.

Many farmers donate unsold quality produce to food banks, but your purchase helps them prosper.

Get outside this summer and volunteer your time at a food bank or in yards bursting with fruit or vegetables that could be donated.

Packing, organizing and keeping food banks open takes year-round attention, not just at the holidays.

Garden expert Mary Robson, retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension, appears regularly in digs and in Practical Gardener in Northwest Life on Wednesdays. Her e-mail is marysophia@olympus.net.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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