In 2012, 17.6 million U.S. households experienced food insecurity, meaning that their access to adequate foods was limited by lack of money and other resources, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Missouri is ranked seventh in the nation in food insecurity and has the fifth highest rate of child food insecurity in the country. Now, Grow Well Missouri, a project of the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security (ICFS) in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri, is helping food pantries provide more food to their clients by offering vegetable seed packets and gardening advice to people who visit food pantries for assistance.
"So far this year, we have distributed almost 22,000 seed packets," said Bill McKelvey, the project coordinator for Grow Well. "The vegetable varieties selected are ones that grow well in Missouri's climate and soils without specialized skills or equipment."
In the near future, McKelvey says that Grow Well will begin distributing recipes that center on the vegetables being grown in the gardens, providing demonstrations showing how to prepare and store foods, and offering gardening classes that will instruct food pantry clients how to increase the yield of their gardens.
"Providing these skills is critical to helping clients achieve lasting self-sufficiency," McKelvey said. "The Grow Well project is one of the most cost-efficient assistance programs, costing approximately $4 per person to provide clients with 20 different varieties of spring and summer vegetable seeds."
McKelvey says most food pantries have limited refrigeration, so they focus on providing canned and processed foods that often leave the patrons without healthy or fresh food options. Food pantry clients also are more likely to be diabetic, have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or be obese due in part to limited access to affordable healthy foods.
"The individuals who operate food pantries do great work and are very dedicated to serving their community," McKelvey said. "Our hope is to help them by providing an opportunity to network with one another and to learn and share ideas. Ultimately, this will allow food pantries to identify and cultivate relationships both within and outside of their communities."
A survey of people who were given the seeds indicated that more than 80 percent have established a garden and 87 percent of those said they would continue with the gardening. Almost 90 percent of the gardeners have shared their surplus vegetables with friends, family and neighbors, helping them have nutritious options and more than half of the gardeners froze some of their food to eat during the off-season months.
Four food pantries across Missouri have enrolled in the Grow Well project so far including the Shelby County Food Pantry, St. James Caring Center, the Help Center in Mexico, Mo., and the Central Pantry in Columbia, Mo. McKelvey says the program has plans of adding two more pantries by 2015 and is working to create resources that can be used by food pantries and communities on their own.
The Grow Well project was funded through a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. For more information about the program, visit: http://cafnrnews.com/2014/08/from-the-ground-up/.