Sustainable Blog

10 Ways to Use Extra Garden Vegetables

Got a bumper crop of veggies on your hands? Here's how to make sure none of it goes to waste.

Big tomato garden harvest

Photo: Melanie J. Watts via Flickr

If your garden did well this year, there’s only so much tomato sauce you can make and so many zucchini breads you can freeze before you realize there’s just no way you’re going to be able to eat your garden’s bounty by yourself. Thankfully, there are many of ways to make good use of the surplus, from donating to food pantries to composting it for new soil for your garden. After all, the average American wastes over 20 pounds of food each month – don’t let your overflowing garden add even more to this number!

1. Make veggie-filled goodie bags.
Having friends or family over? Fill paper or plastic bags with garden-fresh veggies and hand them out as your guests leave. Email them your favorite recipes for cooking inspiration or tuck printed cards in each bag.

2. Preserve your pickings.
It takes time and effort to prep and process fruits and vegetables, but you’ll be rewarded with peak-flavor results all year long. Canning whole or chopped veggies is one option, but you can also freeze many items even tomatoes with very minimal preparation. Other food preservation options include quick pickling, fermenting and dehydrating.

3. Donate to a local food pantry.
Not all food panties can accept fresh produce. To find one in your area that does, start by searching ampleharvest.org.

4. Start a produce stand in your front yard.
A simple “FREE” sign taped to a basket or table of zucchini, tomatoes and peppers will help your veggies find good homes. If you have a lockbox you can secure to the table, you could even solicit donations in exchange for the vegetables and deliver the proceeds to a food pantry. TIP: Want to get your neighbors in on a collaborative growing effort next year? Check out Food Is Free for steps to get started.

5. Add a listing to a local crop-swap site.
Ripe Near Me and Cropmobster (San Francisco area only so far) allow users to browse for available produce (for free or sale) right in their neighborhoods. Or sign up for Nextdoor, a ocial networking site for neighborhoods, to let your neighbors know you have food to share.

6. Post ads on Freecycle or Craigslist.
There’s generally always going to be a taker for free produce from these sites. You could offer to meet people with a selection of harvested items in a convenient public place if you’d rather not share your home address.

7. Cook a meal for a neighbor in need.
Maybe you’re sick of ratatouille and eggplant parmesan, but the elderly man a few houses down or the family who just had a baby would absolutely love a home-cooked meal featuring the flavorful products of your garden.

8. Barter for goods and services.
You might have to ask around, but odds are you’ll find people nearby who will be happy to swap a few eggplant for a dozen eggs from their backyard coop, or trade other items or services (like weeding or watering assistance!) in exchange for garden-fresh produce.

9. Deliver a box to your local volunteer fire department.
They have to cook for a big group of hungry firefighters multiple times a day, so your surplus will likely be much appreciated by the chef! Call ahead to verify what they might be able to use.

10. Compost it.
If you’ve exhausted all your other options, or have let the produce get past the point of edible ripeness, you can transform leftover fruits and veggies into a nutritious soil for your next growing season.

Amanda Bergman
Sustainable America Contributor

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.