Two years ago, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach combined its agricultural side and it's human service side for a project that pairs Iowa Master Gardeners and the S.N.A.P. Education program.
Iowa Master Gardeners are volunteers with special training in gardening and education and use those skills to help out the community.
The S.N.A.P.-Ed program helps families with low incomes have easier ways to make healthy food choices. One of the foods low income people want but have trouble finding at pantries are fresh fruits and vegetables.
Susan DeBlieck with the Iowa State University Master Gardener Program says, "We saw that Master Gardener volunteers across Iowa were already donating food into their food pantry system and already connecting gardeners to food pantries and so we were looking for a way to do that and this year was really successful because we have over 2,000 Master Gardener volunteers who are ready to help their communities in this way."
That success expanded from Iowa State demonstration gardens through small grants to communities across the state. In all, Master Gardeners around Iowa donated about 55,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables in the last year, or about 150,000 servings of food given to pantries through these small gardens.
The seven larger ISU gardens run and maintained by research staff and Master Gardeners, produced about 7,000 pounds.
Christine Hradek with the Iowa State University Human Sciences Extension says, "Through the collaboration between S.N.A.P. Education and Master Gardeners, we were able to fund some of that work and provide them with funding to purchase new fencing, to purchase new plants, to purchase whatever tools they might need to kind of expand or either build up their gardens and in some cases they were also brand new gardens for Master Gardeners who haven't done this kind of work before."
ISU Extension plans on opening up applications to get grants again in 2017. The deadline is January 6th for Master Gardeners and their county offices.