A pandemic and severe drought challenged fruit and vegetable growers across the state in 2021, but volunteers with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach rose to the occasion.
As part of the Growing Together Mini-Grant project, 33 Iowa counties grew 91,772 pounds of fruits and vegetables that were donated to 119 food pantries and distribution sites – equal to more than 275,000 servings.
“Despite a drought and a pandemic, the volunteers were still able to plant and harvest more than 91,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables. This fresh produce is directly benefitting Iowans with low-income in both rural and urban Iowa communities,” said Katie Sorrell, extension education specialist and project director for Growing Together.
Mini-grants are traditionally supported by SNAP-Ed funds. This year, however, the grants were funded by an $85,000 gift from Amerigroup, and an additional $36,285 from local community donations. The Amerigroup gift allows the SNAP-Ed funds that would have been spent this year, to be rolled over into 2022.
“We were thankful for the generosity of Amerigroup and local community donors and their support of donation gardens across Iowa,” Sorrell said.
Some 267 Master Gardener volunteers contributed to this year’s Growing Together projects, along with the help of more than 700 community members who were not Master Gardener volunteers. The projects also received the support of 442 youth.
“The Growing Together donation gardens are a great partnership for the Iowa Master Gardeners, because Master Gardeners get a better understanding of food insecurity in Iowa and how they can help battle food insecurity in their communities,” said Alicia Herzog, Master Gardener program coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach.
The gardens distribute nutrition education materials and also provide a way for Iowans to taste test foods they might have never tried before. That was the case for one Calhoun County food pantry client.
“I was not willing to purchase eggplant in the store because I was afraid it would be a waste of money if I did not like it,” the person said. “Getting to try it through the donation garden let me know that I do like it, and it will not be a waste of money. Thanks for growing a variety of foods for people to try.”