Like most cities, Ames in central Iowa takes pains to keep its downtown looking lush in the summer by planting plenty of beds and containers lining the streets.
But Ames’ plantings also feed the hungry.
For a second year, Ames Main Street has substituted edible landscaping — including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, kale, cabbage and okra — for the flowers it used to plant. On Friday, volunteers harvested more than 200 pounds of sweet potatoes from 25 planters along the street.
About 200 pounds of the potatoes were donated to Food at First, the local food pantry, said Ames Main Street spokeswoman Cindy Hicks.
“I’d say around 15 pounds were given to people on the street who came up and just asked for some,” Hicks said.
Downtown residents and business employees are welcomed to pick whatever produce they’ll consume. The rest goes to charity.
Hicks say about 100 pounds of other produce has been donated so far this summer, and more is expected, as many of the vegetable plants are still producing.
“Some of it is used right away in meals that are fed to the homeless and hungry, while the rest is provided — like groceries — to those who visit Food at First,” she said.
Last year, the effort produced about 100 pounds of vegetables donated to the food pantry.
“If the fresh vegetables we donate can help even one person not worry about where their next meal is coming from, it is worth doing,” Art Baumgartner, chair on the Ames Main Street Design Committee, said. “These gardens also showcase low-cost/high-impact sustainable living in our community.”
The vegetable plants this year were donated, and the gardens are maintained by volunteers.