Grants available to grow veggies for Iowa food banks

AMES — Iowa State University’s Extension Department has grants available for organizations to use to grow vegetables for food banks.

Katie Sorrell is the coordinator for the “Growing Together Iowa” grant program. “Communities either start a garden or they convert a previous community garden. And all of the produce grown at these gardens is donated to local food pantries, along with nutrition education materials,” she says.

Sorrell says Grow Together was created after they got a grant to education people on the SNAP program, which used to be known as food stamps. “Back in 2016, we were brainstorming how can we combine this nutrition education grant we have along with the Master Gardener Program. And that’s where we dreamed up this growing together Iowa program” Sorrell says. “So it’s been going on, this will be our eighth year as we enter into 2024.”

The funding from the U.S.D.A. provide for grants of up to four-thousand dollars.  “The county extension office staff work closely with Master Gardeners and with staff at the local food pantry, and usually they create a new garden, whether that’s with raised garden beds or an inground garden, specifically for that donation piece,” she explains.

Sorrell says the food grown in the gardens is popular.  “When we asked food pantry clients, what would you most like to see in the food pantry? Like what foods would you most want to have? Fresh fruits and vegetables are almost always at the top of the list because all cultures use fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s not tied with a certain culture,” she says. Sorrell says having the fresh fruits and vegetables at the food pantries gives people a healthy option, and it frees up food dollars they can spend on other items.

They had 33 Growing Together Iowa county projects in 2023. “And they donated to 100 pantries. And you won’t believe this, they donated 103-thousand pounds of fresh produce to local pantries,” Sorrell says. December 18th is the deadline to sign up. You can find the application on the ISU Extension website.