AMES – Master Gardener volunteers with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach continue to improve the lives and communities of Iowans, with more than $50,000 awarded in Growing Together Mini-Grants this past year.

Twenty-two counties across the state received grants in 2019, which resulted in about 115,000 pounds of produce being donated to nearby pantries.

The funds are supplied by the federal SNAP-Education program, and are focused on increasing food security and promoting healthy food access.

Often, a community has already begun a food security project, but is in need of some extra support, said Susan DeBlieck, Master Gardener state coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach.

“The mini-grants are really meeting a need,” DeBlieck said. “Putting just a little bit of money into donation gardens, to harvest produce that ends up in someone’s home goes a long way toward improving their day.”

Making a difference

Success stories are popping up across the state. This last round of funding helped single parents in Clayton County provide their children with fresh, nutritious vegetables.

“Through this connection with the food shelf, our project volunteers continue to see how large of an issue food security is in the community,” said Holly Loan, executive coordinator for ISU Extension and Outreach Clayton County.

In Monona County, volunteers reported that their donation gardens are making fresh produce available in communities that are struggling economically, and where grocery stores are a distant commute.

Participants are also learning how to grow their own food.

“This garden project has gotten folks excited to help donate food locally, and to grow a few more plants at home to then donate produce,” said Melissa Beermann, county director for ISU Extension and Outreach Monona County.

In Osceola County, Master Gardeners have partnered with churches and other nonprofits, including ATLAS – an inter-denominational ministry – which provides meals to low-income and homebound residents.

“The fresh produce we provided (through ATLAS), especially the tomatoes, were so well received that the volunteers could hardly wait for the next round of harvest to be delivered,” said Dawn Henderson, horticulture program coordinator for ISU Extension and Outreach Osceola County.

Master Gardeners in Osceola County also provided recipe handouts and cooking guides from the ISU Extension and Outreach Spend Smart Eat Smart website.

New grants

ISU Extension and Outreach county offices can now apply for the 2020 Growing Together Grants, with a deadline of Jan. 10. Grants are available up to $4,000. The mini grant guidelines are provided online, and a sample mini grant application is also available.

For more information about the Master Gardener Growing Together project, contact Susan DeBlieck at 515-294-6764, or deblieck@iastate.edu.

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