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Seed2Need produce tips the scale at 30,000 pounds this season — so far

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Seed2Need has tons and tons — quite literally — for volunteers to do.

As of this week, the project has collected more than 30,000 pounds — about 15 tons — of produce this year.

Seed2Need is a project run by Sandoval County Master Gardeners. Its mission is to bring fresh produce to local food banks, including St. Felix Pantry.

But the program needs a lot more volunteers to operate. That’s according to Leslie Davis, one of Seed2Need’s organizers.

“We can always use more volunteers,” she said. “Planting is popular. Usually harvest is popular, too.”

This year, it’s been hard to get everything harvested, crated and off to the food pantries, though, she said. With more hands available to pick tomatoes and squash, the group could be harvesting way more produce, she said, possibly tons more.

We have 350 people on our mailing list,” she said. “But some nights (we have) less than 12 people. … We can always use more help, and it’s always hit or miss.”

Just keeping something like Seed2Need going is a chore, she said.

It started out with a 160-square-foot garden in Corrales, just a small plot to help families in need of food assistance.

This year, there were around 75 volunteers who came to the Seed2Need gardens in Corrales to do the planting.

There are now three Seed2Need gardens, which total about 1.5 acres.

Some of the land is donated by Dr. Robert Lynn and his wife, Janet Brazie, of Corrales, who only ask to pick a few vegetables in return, Davis said.

Last year the program yielded about 40,000 pounds of zucchini, cucumbers, green chile, tomatoes, green beans and other vegetables — all of them the popular varieties found in most health-food stores or grocery store.

The produce will be donated to Storehouse West and St. Felix Pantry in Rio Rancho and Rio Grande Food Project in Albuquerque.

Each box of produce is weighed and the master gardeners who run Seed2Need keep careful track of it because they take those numbers to the Sandoval County Commission, which helps provide funding for insurance and other costs.

The group says that each hour of volunteer labor yields 29 pounds of produce, but Davis pointed out that not all volunteers are the same. The ones who come out more consistently and have experience are invaluable, she said.

“Volunteers who show up regularly, they’re absolute gold,” she said. “… Anybody who can come out fairly regularly is invaluable to us.”

That’s about a dozen volunteers who have done the heavy lifting, so to speak, when it comes to who actually got that 15 tons of food out to needy folks in the area. Not only that, but the experienced gardeners tend to have to check on the neophytes’ work.

Most people start off not knowing when a tomato plant has been truly picked clean, she said, so someone has to go behind them and check. Or crates of food can be ruined if they aren’t stacked properly. The help is certainly appreciated, but — as in most jobs, volunteer or otherwise — it’s skilled labor that really moves things along, she said.

It’s regular volunteers who ultimately gain those skills, she said, and that’s what she’s hoping to gain.

“The impression is that there are so many people on the mailing list, we don’t need you that badly,” Davis said. “It’s like, yes. Yes, we do need you.”

The group has an additional acre and a half available, and, with more workers, it could plant and harvest that land as well.

“Without more volunteers in the core group — people that set up irrigation and the things you can’t have just the general public do — without expanding that core group, it’s very difficult to expand the project,” she said. “We have everything we need to go bigger, but we need more people.”

For more information, email Penny Davis at