If you visit the Cache Valley Gardeners’ Market this weekend, consider buying some extra produce and donating it to the Cache Community Food Pantry.

“The idea is to help those who need it and have people in the community join us in the effort,” said Hiram Wigant, a nutrition education assistant at Utah State University Extension’s Food $ense Program.

It was Wigant’s idea to start a “buy produce for your neighbor” program at the valley’s weekly farmers’ market. According to Wigant, he modeled his idea after a grocery store program that allowed customers to donate money at the cash register for meal kits that the local food bank could distribute.

People who want to participate can buy produce at the market on Saturdays and drop it off at USU Extension’s booth. When the market ends for the day, Extension staff will weigh what they have collected and drop it off at the food pantry. The food will then be distributed Tuesday through Thursday.

“This is a great program. To have produce that is as fresh as that is, brought right to your doorstep, that is awesome,” said Matthew Whitaker, Cache Valley Food Pantry director.

According to Whitaker, the food pantry receives most of its produce in the fall when people harvest their gardens. During the year, grocery stores will sometimes donate unsold produce, but it isn’t as fresh. Encouraging people to donate at the farmer’s market could help fill a gap at the pantry, Whitaker said.

The program “is going to increase the quality of the food that we are able to put on their (our clients’) table,” Whitaker said.

Wigant’s hope is the program will be successful and catch on in other places around the state. Since Utah’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is one of the leading programs in the nation, he said it is possible the program could be replicated in other states as well.

“It is a great way for those that are able to give in the community to help those who are in need,” Wigant said.

Beyond helping families in need, Wigant said the program could also cut down on food waste at the market.

“Some farmers will donate it (extra produce) themselves, some of them use it for other things and sometimes it just goes to waste,” Wigant said.

Whitaker said he is grateful for the willingness of Wigant and his team to help.

“It takes a lot of people working together to make something like this happen. And there are a lot of people who are grateful for all of their efforts,” Whitaker said.