Growing Together Mini-Grants Awarded to 32 Iowa Counties

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AMES, Iowa – In the midst of record-setting food pantry usage throughout the state, Growing Together Mini-Grants will provide fresh produce and nutrition education to pantries in 2024 through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s SNAP-Education program.

A total of 32 projects are being funded, with the goal of increasing food security and promoting healthy food access and nutrition education. This year, the Growing Together Iowa project will expand to five new counties. A map is available that shows where projects are funded.

Master Gardener volunteers plant donation gardens with partners, support their community with plant-a-row programs to get more produce into food pantries, and glean fresh produce from farmers markets and home gardeners. All produce is donated to local food pantries, food banks and other food distribution sites with accompanying nutrition education materials.

Growing Together mini grants have been funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s SNAP-Education since 2016. This year, additional funding for Growing Together Iowa is provided by Iowa Total Care, a managed care organization that provides healthcare services and Iowa state-sponsored health insurance plans.

In 2023, projects donated over 103,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to 100 food pantries and distribution sites serving 82,000 Iowans. Over 2,300 volunteers, including 286 Master Gardener volunteers, contributed time to the gardens.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are often the most requested item at food pantries,” said Katie Sorrell, extension education specialist and project coordinator for Growing Together. “Growing Together directly meets this need while creating opportunities for nutrition education and community volunteerism.”

“Growing Together Iowa gardens are impactful projects that show volunteers how vital their efforts are in local communities,” said Alicia Herzog, statewide master gardener coordinator. “We know how taxed local food pantries are and the Master Gardener program is honored to play a role in helping our neighbors secure fresh produce.”

For more information, Katie Sorrell can be reached at ksorrell@iastate.edu.

32 county projects

  • Benton – Maintain a large urban farm-turned community donation garden and coordinate gleaning efforts that will benefit seven area food pantries with a goal of donating 15,000 pounds. Garden tours will be provided to food pantry clients.
  • Black Hawk – Grow 10,000 pounds of produce to donate to Northeast Iowa Food Bank. Continue to increase food pantry client engagement through nutrition education, providing resource information, garden tours and more.
  • Bremer – Increase production to 13,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to donate to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank and local food pantries. The project will also partner with the food and health specialist to teach food preparation classes at Waverly Peace UCC Church.
  • Cerro Gordo – Increase supply of fresh produce at donation gardens in Mason City, Clear Lake and Rockwell to donate to local food pantries. Food pantry clients will be invited to helping hours at the garden and other nutrition education opportunities.
  • Clinton – Build, fill and plant two raised bed gardens in DeWitt. Master gardeners will provide container gardening education in partnership with DeWitt Senior Heights housing units.
  • Dallas – Increase fruit and vegetable production at the Fruitful Vine donation garden for donation to the on-site Waukee Area Christian Food Pantry. Food pantry clients will be invited to pick fresh produce at the garden each day the food pantry is open.
  • Des Moines – Maintain the donation garden plot at Homestead 1839 and the South High Demonstration Garden. Container gardening classes will be offered to food pantry clients.
  • Dickinson – Supply the Upper Des Moines Food Pantry and local Head Start participants with fresh produce from their existing donation gardens. Distribute nutrition education materials at food pantry sites.
  • Dubuque – Enhance the current donation gardens and update food safety equipment at garden sites. Nutrition education and garden helping hours will be implemented.
  • Fayette – Add raised beds at the West Union garden and maintain production at the Oelwein garden. Provide container gardening education and materials to food pantry clients.
  • Iowa – New county this year. Partner with ISU Extension and Outreach professionals, Master Gardener volunteers, Williamsburg school administration, FFA students and the local daycare director to build a new donation garden supporting the Williamsburg school food pantry. In addition, a variety of gardening and nutrition events for food pantry clients will be provided throughout the summer.
  • Jasper – Enhance the DMACC garden with apple trees and fencing modifications to donate produce to the Food Pantry of Jasper County and DMACC Newton Campus Food Pantry. The project will offer educational opportunities for food pantry clients, including container gardening workshops and garden tours.
  • Johnson – Expand Coralville Community Food Pantry’s garden with fruit trees, perennial produce plants and trellis gardening. Engage pantry clients through various events at Coralville Community Food Pantry and CommUnity Food Bank, including container gardening and garden build days.
  • Jones – New county this year. Produce and donate at least 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to the Monticello Food Pantry. Monticello High School FFA and NHS students, and community volunteers, in collaboration with extension professionals, will provide cooking demonstrations to food pantry clients.
  • Linn – Continue production at many donation garden sites and create an additional donation garden with a goal of 13,000 donated pounds of produce to local food pantries including SE Linn Community Center. Provide educational and volunteering opportunities for food pantry clients and promote donation of excess produce from home gardeners.
  • Louisa – New county this year. Construct a donation garden in partnership with Master Gardeners, Wapello Food Pantry staff, a local church youth group and 4-H members to supply fruits and vegetables to the Wapello Food Pantry. EFNEP nutrition education courses will be offered on-site at the pantry.
  • Lyon – Maintain produce production for Inwood Foodbank and ATLAS of Lyon County. Opportunities for food pantry clients include container gardening workshops, garden tours and helping hours.
  • Mitchell – Increase fresh vegetable production in Osage garden. In partnership with Master Gardeners, offer planting and harvesting classes to food pantry clients.
  • Monroe – Renew eight raised bed gardens in partnership with Monroe County South Central Iowa Community Action Program to supply fresh produce to local food pantries. Container gardening education will be offered to food pantry clients.
  • Montgomery – Increase number of growers to help support and maintain existing donation gardens. Nutrition education classes and container gardening education will be provided for pantry clients at a number of local food pantries.
  • Muscatine – Expand current donation gardens with trellises and fruit trees. Herb gardening education will be offered to food pantry clients.
  • O'Brien – Maintain donation gardens in Sanborn and Sheldon and collect excess home gardening produce donations. A container gardening class will be offered to food pantry clients at Love INC as well as “Pick Your Own” gardening opportunities.
  • Polk – Update gardens and standardize produce harvest and delivery times to Caring Hands Food Pantry in Altoona and Urbandale Food Pantry. Provide a variety of educational opportunities, including container gardening, to food pantry clients.
  • Ringgold – New county this year. Convert six raised bed gardens to be accessible for people with mobility impairments. Food pantry clients will be able to engage in garden tours and planting days and grow their own produce.
  • Scott – Maintain existing donation gardens and distribute fresh produce to local food pantries. Provide opportunities for a garden tour and gardening education for food pantry clients.
  • Story – Grow a variety of produce at their existing donation garden. Offer garden tours and produce selection for clients of the Food at First food pantry once per week at the garden site.
  • Tama – Expand their current garden with new raised beds and encourage community members to “Grow a Row” to produce more vegetables for the South Tama Food Pantry and NE Tama Food Pantry. Clients at these pantry sites will have the opportunity to attend container gardening classes and “Spend Smart. Eat Smart.” recipe tasting.  
  • Union – New county this year. Partner with Southwestern Community College’s Building Trades Department to build a large, raised bed garden supporting the production of fresh produce to donate to the Creston Area Food Pantry. A container gardening class and garden tours will be offered to food pantry clients.
  • Wapello – Create an orchard in addition to maintaining their current donation garden at the ISU Extension and Outreach Wapello County Office to donate to the Lord’s Cupboard and the Food Bank of Iowa. Garden tours and container gardening education will be given throughout the summer.
  • Warren – Expand the current donation garden in Indianola to include two new raised beds and an orchard to produce more fruits for Helping Hand Food Pantry. They will offer ongoing container gardening classes encompassing care, harvest and use of plants each week at the food pantry for clients.
  • Webster – Expand and increase productivity through a new raised garden bed to benefit the Lord’s Cupboard food pantry and Salvation Army. Container gardening and nutrition education led by the food and health specialist will be offered to YWCA Center for Life Empowerment participants.
  • Winneshiek – Partner with the Decorah Community Food Pantry to donate produce as well as offer educational opportunities for pantry clients. Volunteer helping hours will be introduced for food pantry clients to engage with the donation garden.

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Food, Nutrition and HealthYard and GardenLocal Foods

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