Fargo Public Library, NDSU partner to grow veggies for food pantries

Adam Watts
Forum News Service

FARGO, N.D. — The Fargo Public Library’s planned seed library had to be scrapped this spring as the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for the library to get vegetable seeds to its patrons. But those seeds aren’t going to waste.

The library is partnering with the North Dakota State University Extension Master Gardener Program to use those seeds to grow and harvest vegetables to donate to food pantries around the state.

“COVID-19 has temporarily changed our economy,” NDSU Extension horticulturist Esther McGinnis said. “In recent years, North Dakota has enjoyed one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. While current unemployment rates have not been calculated, they will be sobering to even the most stoic individual. In other states, high unemployment has resulted in long lines at food pantries. According to the Great Plains Food Bank, North Dakota food pantries are reporting a 44% increase in demand.”

The Fargo Public Library acquired vegetable seeds this winter and repackaged them to make them available for their seed library to be picked up by patrons in March. But because the pandemic forced the library to be closed this spring, when most people would be planting their gardens, they had to find a new use for the seeds. That’s where the Master Gardener Program was able to help.

“We knew when they closed us that we had all these seeds that they were going to go to waste,” Master Gardener and beekeeper Sunny Branick said. “People could put them in their refrigerator and store them for the next season. But given the things happening in the community, unemployment and food insecurity might be on the rise.”

Branick got in touch with McGuinness to see if they could get the seeds into communities that needed them or community gardens that could get vegetables to others.

McGuinness and the Master Gardener Program distributed seeds to 18 counties where Master Gardeners, 4-H participants and avid gardeners will sow the seeds in home gardens before donating the resulting produce to local food pantries. The Master Gardener Program says protocols will be followed to ensure the safety of the produce.

After high demand in its first year, the Fargo Public Library’s seed library, funded by the Friends of the Fargo Public Library, was aiming to have even more seeds available and get an earlier start this year.

“Last year, we had three companies donate and we were out of seeds pretty quickly,” Branick said. “This year we started early, expecting more people to pick up their seeds at the beginning of April, but we started at the beginning of March just to give people time to plant their gardens early.”

The Master Gardener Program is also encouraging amateur gardeners to pitch in and help out by growing extra produce for donation this spring. The most in-demand vegetable crops at food pantries include beans, peas, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers, tomatoes and melons.

“You do not need to be an Extension Master Gardener to help others in need,” McGinnis said. “Every home gardener should consider planting an extra row or two of vegetable crops in your garden for donation to local food pantries. If you are a container gardener on your apartment balcony, consider adding an extra container. With widespread unemployment and food insecurity across the state, we will be feeding our friends and neighbors.”

Seed packets from the Fargo Public Library’s donation to the Master Gardener Program have been distributed to Master Gardeners and 4-H youth across 18 counties in North Dakota.