Winneshiek County earns “Growing Together Iowa” mini grant

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. Winneshiek County was on the list of 32 grant recipients from across the state.

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.

Grant funding locally will be used to 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.

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.”

Nearby Fayette County also earned funds to add raised beds at the West Union garden and maintain production at the Oelwein garden. The grant provides container gardening education and materials to food pantry clients.

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