Master Gardeners supply food in the spirit of giving
By KAREN SCHWALLER
ROCK RAPIDS – Hunger in Iowa is real, with hundreds of thousands of Iowans struggling with it regularly.
The summer and fall of 2018 brought extended relief when the Northwest Iowa Master Gardeners teamed up with area community members and Margaret Murphy, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulture educator and regional food coordinator, to donate 1,385 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to 10 different food pantries/organizations throughout Lyon, O’Brien, Sioux and Osceola counties.
“For the third consecutive year, the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Master Gardener program partnered with food pantries across Iowa in an effort to reduce food insecurity in the state,” said Murphy.
Master Gardeners logged a total of 131 volunteer service hours working in the area’s three designated food donation gardens this past summer.
These gardens are located in Sanborn, Sibley and Rock Rapids.
The Sanborn garden accounted for nearly half of the produce donations, providing 610.5 pounds of fresh produce.
In addition to the six area food pantries, produce was donated to Elderbridge Council on Aging’s new Senior Produce Box project. Located in Sibley, it’s for low-income seniors or seniors in need.
Also receiving donations were Prairie View Senior Living, in Sanborn; the Sheldon Summer Lunch Program and Love, INC., of O’Brien County.
Murphy said this was the third year the ISU Home Demonstration Garden at the Lyon County Fairgrounds has been used as a donation garden. The Sibley and Sanborn gardens were started this year.
They are hoping to set up a fourth garden if they are able to apply for and receive the necessary proceeds, according to Murphy. Master Gardeners can apply for mini grants made available through USDA SNAP-Education funding.
The Sanborn garden is overall a community garden, with several plots of it used as food donation areas, with funding for those portions of the garden coming from an Iowa Master Gardener mini-grant.
Deliveries are made regularly on a rotating basis, depending on what food pantries need and when they can be open. Murphy said they try to get to as many as they can.
“What was so exciting about this project – which was a partnership between the Iowa Master Gardener Program and the ISU Extension and Outreach SNAP-Ed program – is that we’ve been able to get some funding for Master Gardeners to set up new gardens to use as a way to donate or expand existing gardens,” she said. “It’s been very helpful to us in being able to access those funds.”
These mini grants have been made available to Master Gardeners to help establish donation gardens since 2016. A person has to be a certified Master Gardener in order to apply for the mini-grants to help cover costs associated with starting a food donation garden.
Any community member can help tend the garden or donate excess produce from their own personal gardens to help out with this relief project. Those wanting to help with the gardens or contribute their own home-grown produce need only stop by any of the regular weekly harvest dates.
Interested persons should contact Murphy at the Lyon County Extension and Outreach office for the schedule.
“It gives community gardeners an opportunity to participate as well if they have excess to donate, but not all pantries are set up to accept fresh produce, so calling ahead would be a good idea not only to find that out, but to ask when to drop it off, too,” said Murphy of community gardeners who wish to share their bounty with those less fortunate.
She added those tending these gardens can be Master Gardeners, extension staff and community volunteers who are not Master Gardeners. The garden in Rock Rapids (Lyon County) is actually an ISU Home Demonstration Garden, and the Northwest Iowa Research Farm is a partner in that outreach.
Fruits and vegetables that tend to be the most popular among county food pantries include tomatoes, zucchini, winter squash/pumpkins, potatoes, onions, peppers (green, yellow, red), cucumbers, watermelon, muskmelon, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots and green beans.
Murphy said recipients are appreciative of the produce – especially the elderly, if they no longer have a garden of their own, and apartment residents who don’t have access to garden space.
“Fresh produce is one of the most requested items at food pantries,” said Murphy.
For more information on starting a donation garden, access the ISU Extension and Outreach Community Donation Gardening Toolkit at www.extension.iastate.edu/localfoods/community-donation-gardening-toolkit/.
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