Local Growers and Plant A Row Collaborate to Combat Food Insecurity in Central Iowa

AMES, Iowa— Local growers, in conjunction with the Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market, and Reiman Gardens, are collaborating to combat hunger with the Plant A Row for the Hungry initiative. This summer, those forces will combine to donate more than 10,000 pounds of produce to the Plant A Row for the Hungry program – a national public service program of Garden Communicators International, started in 1995.

Recent studies from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach show that more than 14,000 individuals in Story County battle food insecurity each year, accounting for nearly 15% of the county population. It’s a problem being addressed head-on by the Story County Plant A Row (PAR), which began in 2004 and collects produce that is distributed to multiple food pantries and agencies. Over the last 19 years, more than 89,000 pounds of fresh garden produce have been collected and distributed. While that seems like a large number, there is still plenty of opportunity to do more.

“I think it’s really important to put high-quality food out to where it’s least available,” said Roger Ginder, a local grower who has been contributing to Reiman Gardens’ Plant A Row program for many years. “I think most people who are food insecure appreciate getting it.”

Jeanne Roth, another grower from Ames who brings a pickup load of produce to Reiman Gardens nearly every week, is motivated by the produce prices she sees at the local grocery stores. “I look at the prices in the grocery store of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I think to myself, ‘how could you pay for this if you had a family?’ It makes me feel good that people who don’t have the money to buy fresh produce can get it.”

Local grower Jeanne Roth delivers her weekly truckload of produce. Roth has been donating produce for nearly 20 years.

Ginder and Roth are just two examples of local growers who are passionate about fighting food insecurity. According to Reiman Gardens’ PAR volunteer Laura Miller, the Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market has ramped up their efforts to combat hunger this year. Laura and her husband David help collect produce each Monday morning during the summer months at Reiman Gardens in Ames. She calculates that, through July, the Farmers’ Market has contributed over 1,000 pounds of produce, including cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, green beans, cabbage, onions, and eggs.

The Plant A Row program has additional, unintended benefits. Not only are there health benefits to those receiving the produce, but to those growing it as well.

“It keeps me moving,” said Ginder. “When you get older, it gets easy to sit and watch television.”

Ginder estimates he spends 2-3 hours per day tending his 1,400 square foot garden, between mending fences to keep out pesky critters, weeding, and harvesting.

Roth has her own ideas about the benefits of gardening: It helps keep her husband occupied doing something he loves.

“You can take the boy out of the farm, but not the farm out of the boy,” quipped Roth.

Reiman Gardens accepts donations for the Plant A Row program each Monday from late June until mid-October. All donations are welcome from the public. The drop-off location is in front of the Reiman Gardens Maintenance Building located in the S1 parking lot directly south of Jack Trice Stadium. Hours of collection are 7:30 a.m. – 9 a.m.

Reiman Gardens is also seeking additional volunteers to help collect the produce each Monday morning from 7:30 a.m. – 9 a.m. Contact Kimberly Hope at khope@iastate.edu for more information.

For questions regarding the Plant A Row program at Reiman Gardens, contact Kara Hetrick, Horticulturist, at 515-294-6797 or khetrick@iastate.edu.