Fresh and healthy

Donation garden produces more than 140 pounds of fresh veggies for local food pantries

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Laura Ludgate, a volunteer with the Growing Together Donation Garden, holds up a freshly-picked green pepper from the garden on Wednesday morning. Since June, the garden has produced more than 140 pounds of fresh vegetables to be donated to the Lord’s Cupboard food pantry and the Salvation Army.

In just four short months, the new Webster County Growing Together Donation Garden in Fort Dodge has produced more than 140 pounds of fresh produce, which were given to the Lord’s Cupboard food pantry and the Salvation Army.

The garden, located at Fourth Avenue South and South Seventh Street, is a product of the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Master Gardeners program. The Growing Together program was started four years ago and provides communities with mini grants to build and sustain these gardens across the state.

“Last year, they had 26 gardens across the state and they grew 90,000 pounds of produce for 101 food pantries in the state of Iowa,” said Master Gardener Doug Brightman, of Fort Dodge.

According to the ISU Extension and Outreach office, one in eight Iowans is food insecure, which means they do not have access to sufficient food to make up a healthy diet.

More than $50,000 in grant money from the SNAP Education program has been disbursed to help fight food insecurity across the state this year. Twenty-two new projects throughout the state were funded, including the Fort Dodge garden.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Since planting in June, the Growing Together Donation Garden has produced more than 140 pounds of vegetables that have been donated to the local Lord’s Cupboard food pantry and Salvation Army kitchen.

The Webster County Growing Together Donation Garden received a mini grant of just under $4,000 to get started earlier this spring.

In addition to receiving the funding from the Growing Together program, the city of Fort Dodge donated an old city-owned garden that had fallen in disrepair, and provided free water and mulch to the project.

“I was amazed by the willingness of the city to give us the space, but then also provide free water and mulch,” Brightman said.

The group spent much of the spring season restoring the garden.

“It was an overgrown patch of thistles and weeds and it had old raised beds that were falling apart,” Brightman said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Donation garden volunteers Jeff Becker, Laura Ludgate, Doug Brightman and William Ringwald pose with freshly-picked produce at the donation garden on Wednesday morning.

The garden was finally ready for planting by mid-June, and the first harvest of the produce was on July 27. The Master Gardeners have been harvesting new vegetables each week since.

“In the short growing season, from our seven raised beds, we’ve had over 140 pounds of fresh produce,” Brightman said.

At this time, the garden grows beans, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplants, onions, peppers, tomatoes and zucchini.

“I think it’s been a successful experience,” Brightman said.

The produce harvested is then washed and delivered to either the Lord’s Cupboard food pantry or the local Salvation Army for their daily meals.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
The Purple Beauty variety of sweet pepper is just one variety of peppers being grown at the Growing Together Donation Garden in Fort Dodge.

“I have had the opportunity several times to take things to the Lord’s Cupboard and Salvation Army. It was an eye-opener,” said Laura Ludgate, another Master Gardener. “I had no idea the Salvation Army feeds 75 to 100 people every single day at lunch. One day, I walked in with all this fresh produce and they had this big salad and I thought ‘Oh my god, what great timing.”

Because of the late start in the spring, the growing season was short this year. Brightman hopes for even more success during the next growing season.

“This year was our trial year and I think next year we’ll start earlier and we’ll be ready to go, and we have four new beds that we’re building,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting and I think it’s going to keep growing.”

Others are taking notice at these special gardens.

“It’s been such a successful concept and program that our neighboring states have now replicated the program,” Brightman said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
The Purple Beauty variety of sweet pepper ripens to a deep purple color.

Brightman said the Master Gardeners are grateful for their community partners for helping make this garden a success. Local businesses and organizations have helped by donating supplies and providing discounted services. The Donation Garden’s community partners are: the city of Fort Dodge, Webster County Cultural & Diversity Team, Beisser Lumber Company, RoJohn Home Improvement, Becker Florist & Garden Center, Menards, Creative Signs & Graphics and ISU Webster County Extension and Outreach.

Since May, more than 270 volunteer hours have been given by Master Gardeners, and 10 volunteer hours by community volunteers for the establishment and maintenance of the garden. Brightman said the group is always welcoming community volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the ISU Extension and Outreach office at 576-2119.