Access to healthy food is a wicked problem. One in eight Iowans is food insecure and in some counties, the number is closer to one in five. People who visit food pantries want fresh fruits and vegetables, which make up a healthy diet. In 2015, state coordinators of the SNAP-Ed and Master Gardener programs launched the Growing Together Iowa project. The project aims to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are foundational to healthy eating, and often not available at food pantries. The target audience includes people in Iowa who visit food pantries, meal sites, and food banks.
The interdisciplinary team implements a strategic approach to increase access to healthy food in food pantries. Strategies include:
The Growing Together Iowa collaboration has been in place for over 3 years and the team has seen strong outcomes.
During the 2018 growing season:
This project has affected not only our target audience of people experiencing food insecurity; it has also changed our Master Gardener volunteers.
In 2018, the Growing Together team spoke with Master Gardeners and other volunteers from counties participating in the project. Seventy-five percent of volunteers noted a change in their perception of food insecurity since taking part in this project. Most often, volunteers expressed a newfound understanding of the scope of food insecurity within their own communities. Volunteers often noted their changing perceptions of food insecurity happened when they went to the donation site(s) to drop off the produce they grew or rescued.
Five states are currently replicating components of Growing Together Iowa. They include Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. The Iowa interdisciplinary team is proud to support our partner states through regular calls and two face-to-face meetings. Our national collaboration has focused on sharing success stories and tools, and creating shared evaluation metrics to measure change. In 2017 and 2018, the multi-state team prepared a project impact report including six metrics shared across all states.
The Growing Together Iowa team includes: