by Jamie McCarthy,

Do you grow your own vegetables? You don’t need a big garden to produce a large harvest. In fact, a recent study by revealed that 80 percent of gardeners grow more fresh food than they can personally use. Collectively, gardeners produce an extra 11 billion pounds of food every year. Instead of letting that healthy food go to waste, many generous gardeners donate it to families in need through their local food pantry.

If you’re a gardener who’d like to help feed your neighbors, here are five vegetables that are easy to grow and keep growing!

1. Lettuces, Salad Mixes

Many types of lettuces are a great option for fresh salads all summer long. If you are looking for the fastest producing mixes, choose those containing only leaf lettuce. Salad mixes are ready to harvest in about one month and can be harvested multiple times from one seeding.

2. Swiss Chard, Kale, Leafy Greens

These nutrient dense greens grow quickly and easily. Swiss chard and kale are full of Vitamin K. These greens can be grown throughout summer and fall in all zones of the continental United States. Depending on variety, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor in 30 to 40 days. These are also crops that you can harvest and let regrow for multiple harvests.

3. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are popular and produce in abundance. Vining cucumbers produce the most while bush cucumbers tend to produce slightly less fruit. Three to four vines can easily provide 10 pounds of cucumbers and are ready to pick in 50 to 60 days.

4. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are familiar, there are a ton of varieties and they produce a steady supply of fruit. They are not as fast growing as leafy greens so you’ll have to wait about 80 days before being able to harvest. However, you can expect to harvest about 10 to 15 pounds of fruit per plant.

5. Zucchini

Have you ever heard of ‘Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day’? It started because just a few plants can easily yield 20 to 40 pounds of fruit. To get a great yield you need to harvest regularly. These are best picked when eight inches long or smaller.

A gardener overwhelmed with a bountiful harvest can go to to find a food pantry near them to donate. Most food pantries have specific drop-off days and times so be sure to find out when they are available to receive donations. Please only donate food that is high enough quality that you would eat it. Donations need to be clean and of a suitable ripeness. The group of friends pictured above have donated more than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce to their local food pantries.

Even small donations are welcome at most pantries though! Your bounty, large or small, can help a family eat a well-balanced dinner tonight. Happy gardening!