Developing strong partnerships with community members and food recipient agencies is a key first step in donation gardening. When considering where to donate, your community may offer a wide range of opportunities. The three recommendations below are not meant to be sequential. Rather, they provide an iterative process of partnership development. 

Recommendation #1: Consider possible models for the garden.

Understanding the various options for growing and distributing the produce will be an important consideration for the garden. A community donation garden may provide a direct model of access, in which the garden is located in the neighborhood where the food or gardening resources will be distributed, often either on site or nearby the garden. 

The community members who receive the food or gardening resources in this model may have different levels of involvement and participation. They may direct the garden, participate in gardening, have direct access to the garden and gardening resources, utilize the garden as a learning space, coordinate distributions, receive food distributions directly from the garden, or participate in the garden in other ways.

Indirect access is another model of donation. Food may be grown at one site and then transported for delivery, often to a local food recipient agency such as a food pantry. Some community donation gardens may opt for a hybrid of the direct and indirect models, or they may allocate a portion of the garden or the produce grown for donation purposes.

Recommendation #2: Create a list of potential partners.

Recipient sites may include food pantries, food banks, meal programs, soup kitchens, senior centers, schools, daycare and after school centers, faith-based organizations, drop-off sites collecting food for delivery to pantries, and more. 

If you are unsure where to donate in your community, begin by having a conversation among the garden volunteers and neighborhood members, contact your County Extension office, and reach out to your network of community members to discuss ideas. Other community gardening organizations may recommend potential partners and may share other important insights and information.

Recommendation #3: Develop partnerships.

Set up an in-person meeting and/or phone call between the garden coordinators and potential partners. Make sure to include the gardeners who will primarily be responsible for produce donation. When you have conversations with the neighborhood organizations, members and/or food recipient agencies in your community, be prepared to ask questions about the partners' needs, interests, and expectations.

Example questions include:

  • What are the partner's needs related to food and/or gardening?
  • Is this partner interested in receiving fresh produce from this community garden?
  • What is the partner's experience with fresh produce and produce donations?
  • What concerns might they have in partnering with the garden, or in receiving produce from the garden?
  • What types of produce are most needed?
  • Does the recipient site have refrigeration? How much produce do they have the capacity to store (both unrefrigerated and refrigerated produce)?
  • Does the recipient site have a scale to weigh all of the donated produce?
  • How else might they be interested in partnering?
  • How can the garden best meet the needs and expectations of the community members?
  • What would the partner like the gardeners to know or understand about it (and for agencies, about the community members it serves)? 
  • What level of involvement and partnership are the neighborhood members/agencies and the garden volunteers interested in? Produce donation only, or other opportunities for collaboration?
  • Are the garden volunteers able to meet the needs of this partnership?

Before committing to partnership, it is also important to discuss the logistics of produce donation and delivery. See the "What to Grow" section of the toolkit. Once you have developed a partnership, plan to regularly check-in with your partners and recipient agencies. Plan one or more conversations mid-growing season and at the end of the growing season.

Finally, remember that your partners, whether neighborhood members or food recipient agencies, are often constrained for resources, including time, financial, and other resources, It is important to develop partnerships that serve their needs. But you also need to be realistic about the level of commitment you can expect from garden volunteers.


Montana Food Bank Network is a statewide network of food banks and pantries. Follow the link to locate and learn more about emergency food resources in your community.

Ample Harvest is an online directory of food banks and pantries. Note that the directory only contains food recipient agencies that have registered with Ample Harvest.

MEANS is an online resource that helps connect growers with organizations receiving and distributing food.

Where to Donate PDF version

This information has been modified from documents that were researched and written by Carrie Chennault. Reviewers and additional contributors: Laura Irish, Christine Hradek, Caitlin Szymanski, and Susan DeBlieck. Copyright 2018. Iowa State University SNAP-Ed and Master Gardener programs.

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