BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota program that encourages farmers and gardeners to plant more to combat hunger has generated more than 2.5 million pounds of food for homeless shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens statewide.

The Hunger Free North Dakota Garden Project has been in the works since 2010 and is once again accepting donations, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

"Zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, onions, peppers ... everybody seems to have a little something extra," said Doug Goehring, the state's agriculture commissioner. "Instead of this going to waste, why not drop it off at the soup kitchen?"

The program encourages farmers to plant an extra acre or row of produce in the spring to donate in the fall, but can anyone can participate regardless of garden size. Fresh produce is put into the hands of those less fortunate.

"We didn't do this to be self-serving, but to help those in need ... families, individuals who are disabled and stuck at home and the elderly, who perhaps spent years gardening but are no longer able to be outside," Goehring said. "At least we can get fresh produce to them without costs being incurred."

The Great Plains Food Bank and local agencies such as Mandan's AID Inc. help weigh and distribute the produce in communities. AID collected and distributed nearly 1,500 pounds of fresh produce between July and October 2017.

"We've had something as massive as a trailer pull up behind our agency here, full to the brim of corn," said Patti Regan, AID executive director. "We make sure we get it passed out immediately. We put it on a scale, we weight it and put it out front on our free rack and individuals can just come take what they want."

___

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com