Ed. Note: This post is part of the Commerce in the Community series highlighting the work of community leaders and organizations that are strengthening the middle class and providing ladders of opportunity for all Americans.
Below is an interview with Gary Oppenheimer, the Executive Director and Founder of AmpleHarvest.org.  As director of a community garden in 2009, Gary learned about the wasted food in many plots and created a program called "Ample Harvest" to get the excess food to local food pantries. Realizing this as a nationwide problem, he created AmpleHarvest.org to use the Internet educate, encourage and enable millions of growers nationwide to share their ample harvest with local food pantries in all 50 states.
Question 1: Tell us about AmpleHarvest.org. What is your mission and main focus?
While more than 50 million Americans live in food insecure homes (including a quarter of all children under the age of six), more than 42 million Americans grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and nuts in home gardens - often more than they can use, preserve or give to friends. It doesn't have to be that way. Struggling to feed their families, many Americans - both those chronically economically challenged as well as those now impacted by the economic downturn - have come to rely on the more than 33,500 food pantries (also called food shelves, food closets, food cupboards or food banks in some areas) across America to help feed their families. These food pantries, relying on donated and purchased foods, almost never have fresh produce and instead rely on canned or processed produce shipped from across the country at significant cost, both economic and environmental. At the same time, millions of home and community gardeners nationwide with an abundant harvest do not know that they can share their harvest, do not know how to share their harvest and do not know where to share their harvest. AmpleHarvest.org solves that for them. AmpleHarvest.org envisions an America where millions of gardeners eliminate malnutrition and hunger in their own community. To accomplish this, AmpleHarvest.org, moving information instead of food to diminish hunger and malnutrition in America, is educating, encouraging and empowering growers to share their excess harvest with the needy in their community instead of letting it rot in the garden. Our "No Food Left Behind" goal is a healthier and, by extension, wealthier America.
Question 2: In what ways is AmpleHarvest.org working to strengthen local communities and promote economic development?
It is critical to understand that a healthy workforce relies on access to healthy food as well as educated and nourished students to replenish the workforce in the future. Malnourished workers not only have increased medical/health costs - an impaired health condition can actually diminish their economic potential at work. The simple act of sharing your excess harvest with a local food pantry helps ensure that families that use food pantries will be able to eat the same healthy food you strive to serve your family.
Currently, nearly 7,000 food pantries across all 50 states are registered to receive a sustainable and recurring supply of freshly harvested, locally grown food (many for the first time) from area growers - for free! As a result, millions of pantry clients can feed their family fresh food instead of food packaged with added salt and sugar thereby reducing the likelihood of diet related illness such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Children, now at greater risk of obesity than ever before, are exposed to fresh produce with many learning for the first time that apples do not normally come pre-sliced in cellophane, peas come in pods and not cans and carrots are normally sweet and crunchy.
Additionally, growers across America enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that they are helping their neighbors in need by reaching into their backyard instead of their back pocket. Families are introduced to new varieties of food they may have had no prior access to, the carbon footprint of pantries is reduced as locally sourced food is used and the community waste stream is reduced as excess food is donated instead of being thrown away. All this occurs at no cost to the donor, the community or the country.
Question 3: How is AmpleHarvest.org partnering with other organizations and individuals - nonprofits, businesses, etc - to positively impact communities around the U.S.?
AmpleHarvest.org has been working closely with many organizations as part of our effort to help more people learn that the solution to hunger in America is in their backyard. A sampling of these collaborations are: * Working together with The White House and Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative, we are enabling millions of people to engage in healthier eating by providing access to the healthy food that would otherwise be unaffordable. * Collaborations with a number of organizations such as Campus Kitchens and the National Gardening Association are focused on helping more children and teenagers learn about healthy eating and have or create access to fresh produce. * The US Department of Agriculture has been helping to promote AmpleHarvest.org to America's 95,000 Master Gardeners. * The National Council of Churches has been working to help more food pantries housed in local churches become aware of and register at AmpleHarvest.org. * The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to help educate Americans on the environmental impact of wasted food.
Question 4: If people want to learn more about AmpleHarvest.org, what should they do? People wanting to learn about our work can visit www.AmpleHarvest.org/TED  and www.AmpleHarvest.org/PBS . People looking to bring AmpleHarvest.org into their community should visit www.AmpleHarvest.org/local , and anyone interested in doing a press or media story can visit www.AmpleHarvest.org/presskit . People looking to contact us directly can send an email to info[at]AmpleHarvest[dot]org.