AMES, Iowa – Two county Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Master Gardener programs have been awarded the Search for Excellence honor for their commitment to food and nutrition for local communities.
The Community Outreach Gardens Project in Linn County and the Youth Education Gardens in Marshall County are the 2020 recipients. Both projects worked to educate and empower adults and youth to grow and consume fresh healthy produce in 2019.
The award recognizes Master Gardeners who demonstrate outstanding contributions to their communities, providing significant learning and impact in the local area, according to Susan DeBlieck, Master Gardener State Coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach. All applications must show that significant learning took place, with the focus on educating the general public rather than individual Master Gardeners.
In Marshall County, Master Gardeners helped youth grow produce at elementary and middle schools, and at the Bobcat University in Marshalltown. The produce is donated to local food pantries, including House of Compassion in Marshalltown.
Chelsea Martens, the ISU Extension and Outreach Master Gardener coordinator in Marshall County, said 464 youth benefited from the educational portion of the program, and youth and other volunteers helped to donate more than 930 pounds of produce in 2019.
Martens said it was encouraging to “see the excitement” on the faces of volunteers and food recipients, and that the teams “created a close bond” by working together.
“Receiving the award gives us a sense of pride that we’re doing a really good job and that we’re impacting the community and others are seeing the impact,” she said.
In Linn County, Master Gardeners worked with 18 community gardens to improve food access and knowledge in underserved communities. Each garden had a Master Gardener liaison as project leader, and volunteers who worked with the community.
Over the past three years, the Linn County project has led to more than 31,000 pounds of fresh produce being grown and donated to people who are food insecure. More than 200 adults have been educated about producing food, and more than 600 students have received gardening education and experience.
“In every community we’ve had an opportunity to not only work on the gardens but also provide educational and nutritional support,” said Jean Wilson, ISU Extension and Outreach Master Gardener coordinator in Linn County.
Wilson said the award helps recognize the work of the many volunteers from the community, as well as the Master Gardeners.
The Linn County project was led by Master Gardener Beula Dvorak, along with 16 other Master Gardeners and more than a dozen charitable organizations and partnerships.
The Marshall County project was led by Master Gardeners Shelly Appelgate and Marilyn Beard, and included the West Marshall FFA and Marshall County 4-H.
Original photo: Marshall County gardeners.
Original photo: Linn County gardeners.