Benton, Tama counties among 32 Iowa projects awarded Growing Together Mini-Grants

Susan DeBlieck, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

AMES, Iowa – In a time of economic difficulty and special need, a record number of communities across Iowa are slated to receive Growing Together Mini-Grants 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. Locally, two counties have been awarded grants.

In Benton County, the grant will help maintain a large urban farm turned into a community donation garden that will benefit 11 area food pantries with a goal of donating 12,000 pounds. This project was created by The Old School Produce Partners and involves a wide range of community volunteers, businesses and organizations with close involvement and input from local donation sites.

In Tama County, the grant will help equip food pantry clients to grow vegetables at home by offering plants, supplies and resources. Community gardeners will be encouraged to “Grow Another Row” for donation to the South Tama Food Pantry.

Growing Together mini grants have been funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s SNAP-Education since 2016. Iowa was the first state to create this model, which has been replicated in Nebraska, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Wyoming and Montana. Over the past five years, the mini-grants have resulted in food donations of over 434,729 pounds.

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.

“It continues to amaze me how Extension Master Gardener volunteers have built partnerships to increase fresh produce donations to food pantries,” said Susan DeBlieck, master gardener program coordinator. “I am so grateful that the Growing Together projects were already on the ground to respond to increased food pantry need in 2020.”

The projects took on renewed importance in 2020, due to the COVID pandemic and economic challenges. Counties responded with creativity and determination.

“The Growing Together Iowa team was very impressed with the awardees this past year,” said Katie Sorrell, extension education specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “Despite a derecho, drought and a pandemic, the Growing Together Iowa counties pivoted to donate fresh fruits and vegetables at food pantries in creative ways.”

This year, the Growing Together Iowa team received a record number of applications, including eight new counties that have never applied before. A map is available that shows where projects have been funded in the past.

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

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