(March 27, 9:15 a.m.) Ag Against Hunger, which collects and distributes surplus produce in California, donated more than 8.7 million pounds of fresh produce in 2008 — but those donation might wane in 2009 with growers planting fewer acres.

The Salinas, Calif.-based nonprofit organization works with food banks in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties to provide fresh vegetables and fruit to hungry families and has distributed more than 150 million pounds of produce since it started in 1990.

“Our mission is about feeding the hungry,” said Alicia Cask, transportation specialist at Fresh Express, Salinas, and Ag Against Hunger’s president.

Cask said the group received more than 600,000 pounds of donated produce in January and February and often relies on volunteers to glean fields before they are disked under. Last year, volunteers harvested more than 120,000 pounds of produce. But with agricultural companies cutting back, Cask said, this year may be challenging to get enough produce for food banks.

The Food Bank for Monterey County, Second Harvest of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties, Grey Bears of Santa Cruz and Community Pantry of San Benito County make Ag Against Hunger’s donations available to more than 260 nonprofit agencies and feed more than 75,000 low-income people each month, the agency said in a news release.

Cask said during winter months, the organization collects surplus produce from Yuma, Ariz., and with its food bank partners transports the food back to Salinas for distribution. Ag Against Hunger also will swap vegetables for fruits, with Fresno County groups to ensure those who use food banks have access to fresh produce Cask said.

When local food bank needs are met, Ag Against Hunger provides California Emergency Foodlink, a statewide food distribution program, with fresh produce, which is dispersed to more than 50 food banks and community pantries throughout the state, according to the news release.

Ag Against Hunger works with food organizations in Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico to feed about 3 million people throughout the West Coast region.