FARGO – The number of organizations signed up to collect and weigh produce for the 2011 Hunger Free ND Garden Project is up 40 percent over last year.

“So far, we have 58 organizations lined up, and we are hoping for more,” said Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring at a Wednesday news conference in Fargo. “We are also asking everyone to participate in the project by planting or buying produce to be donated to local food pantries. Our goal is half a million pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit for the hungry in North Dakota.”

Last year, the project collected 361,500 pounds of produce.

Also participating in the news conference were representatives of the North Dakota State University Extension Service and the Great Plains Food Bank.

“If you are a gardener or a grower, we are asking you to plant an extra acre or an extra row or a few extra plants to donate,” Goehring said. “If you are not a gardener, you can help out by buying fresh produce – especially from our farmers markets – and donating it to a participating food relief agency. You can also volunteer to help out at a community garden or food pantry.”

He said food pantries, soup kitchens, senior programs, and charitable organizations should call the North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) for a participation survey form and to sign-up to receive fresh produce donations throughout the harvest season.

Goehring said more information, including drop-off points for garden-grown produce, will be available on NDDA's website, in June.

“In a state that produces so much food, it is sad to say that hunger is very much a problem here – our largest food bank has seen an almost 20 percent increase in the need for services,” Goehring said. “Sadder yet, 40 percent of those needing help are children.”

Partners in the garden project include the NDDA, the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association, NDDA, Lutheran Social Services - Great Plains Food Bank, NDSU Extension Service, Dakota College at Bottineau - Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture, Creating a Hunger Free ND Coalition, Healthy North Dakota, Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society and Pride of Dakota companies.