Supporters Deliver Produce From Local Farms to Central Iowa Families

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Drake University faculty, staff, and students at our Plant a Mile volunteer day at Grinnell Heritage Farm

By: Kelsey Johnson

Greater Des Moines Buy Fresh Buy Local member farms delivered over four tons of fresh, locally grown produce to Drake’s Plant a Mile project this year. By weight, that’s roughly 13 Iowa State Fair butter cows, but a whole lot healthier.

Plant a Mile connects volunteers passionate about local food, local farms growing fresh produce, and organizations and businesses willing to invest in helping families at risk put fresh produce on their tables.

Becky Whitlow, Food Pantry Network Director with Des Moines Area Religious Council, is most excited for “How enthusiastic people are to have access to fresh produce like sweet corn they maybe couldn’t afford,” she said. “Produce is expensive. So it gives us the opportunity to help people try things they might not have spent money on otherwise.”   She specifically mentioned kale as something that families might not want to try on a limited budget, but this program gave them that opportunity and suggestions on how to prepare it.

The Plant a Mile project provided families in the community a more diverse and abundant selection of locally grown produce including summer squash, apples, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, and sweet potatoes. This produce was offered in addition to the two servings DMARC already provides in every box they distribute. Plant a Mile supports other DMARC efforts and the Downtown Farmers Market Meals from the Market program to provide extra locally grown produce for families to take when available. According to Becky, the extra produce always gets taken by families excited to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“Plant a Mile delivered over 8000 pounds of locally grown produce,” says Matt Russell, coordinator of Greater Des Moines BFBL at Drake.  “We’ll have final numbers early next year when the Maytag Dairy Farms popcorn gets delivered.  This has been an incredible second year for Plant a Mile with five farms participating, over 50 people volunteering, and an expanded donor base to help grow the project.”

Russell says all of the BFBL sponsors increased their level of support this year to specifically expand Plant a Mile. While BFBL and Plant a Mile is primarily a project of Drake University, additional sponsors include Campbell’s Nutrition, Cultivating Compassion: The Richard Deming Foundation, Devour Des Moines, Downtown Farmers Market, HoQ Restaurant, Iowa Heartland RC&D, Kitchen Collage of Des Moines, and Maytag Dairy Farms.

“While BFBL and Plant a Mile have always been a Drake University project, the support and leadership of our community partners is vital to helping us grow these programs in ways Drake couldn’t do on our own,” said Russell.

The project made it possible for the following farms to contribute highly nutritious local produce to the DMARC’s Food Pantry Network throughout the growing season: Rinehart Family Farm, Ali Family Garden, Busy Bee Garden Center, and Grinnell Heritage FarmMaytag Dairy Farms grew a full mile of popcorn that will be processed and packaged by volunteers for delivery in January.

Greg Rinehart from Reinhart’s Family Farm helped pilot the program last year and knows how meaningful it can be to find support from your community in a time of need.  “We like to help those less fortunate,” he said. “We’ve had times on the farm when we’ve barely made it, and it’s nice for people who are having trouble to be encouraged.”

Excited by the success of the program, the third year of Plant a Mile will roll out the 2014 season with a volunteer event at Kitchen Collage of Des Moines in mid-January. “We’re hosting a ‘funraiser’ with Maytag Dairy Farms in January to finish up the 2013 Plant a Mile and kick off the 2014 project. We’ll be inviting folks to help shell this season’s popcorn from Maytag and get people fired up about next year,” said Teresa Adams-Tomka of Kitchen Collage of Des Moines.

In addition to helping shell and package the donated Maytag popcorn, volunteers will enjoy a Plant a Mile happy hour with snacks and beverages. Keep following BFBL for more details.

Drake University is excited to partner with private businesses and volunteers to help families in need access fresh, healthy foods, and to work with farms to put extra produce to good use. “It’s really a win-win,” said Greg Rinehart. “It’s good for us to not see our vegetables go to waste, and it’s good for people that need it. I hope to see the program continue to grow.”