It’s hard to fathom, but in Iowa—the food capital of the world—13 percent of families don’t have a secure source of nutritious food. One in five children struggle with hunger.

Poverty is certainly a reason, with 65 percent of these families living below the federal poverty level. And in the land of plenty, many lower-income neighborhoods are “food deserts”: urban areas where it is difficult for residents to obtain healthy food, especially for people with limited transportation.  

In food deserts, fast food and convenience stores are abundant; fresh fruits and vegetables are not. This contributes to the high—and climbing—obesity rates for lower-income Iowans. Nearly 30 percent of all Iowans are obese, up from 27 percent in 2013.

The local network of food pantries are an option for many, but they cannot keep up with the demand. According to a “Hunger in America” study, Iowa pantries served 22 percent more families in the past year.

Community Gardens improve the supply of fresh produce for lower-income neighborhoods. The concept is simple: teams of volunteers dedicate a plot of land, grow a vegetable garden, and share the bounty in their community or donate it to local food pantries.

Gardens come in all sizes, from small container plots tended by a church or neighborhood group, to larger-scale suburban mini-farms. All that’s required is land, a plan, a water source and committed volunteers.

United Way is advocating for central Iowa organizations to plant and harvest a garden during the 2016 growing season. To help get started, United Way awarded 21 community gardens with grants ranging from $470 to $1,500, for a total of $25,000.

What you can do:

  • Recruit a team of volunteers and have a planning meeting. United Way can provide resources to help you get started.
  • Plan, plant and tend your garden in spring and summer 2016. At harvest time, United Way can help locate a market or pantry who will take and process your harvest to benefit central Iowans who need it.
  • If your organization or business is interested in ways to help, United Way provides resources and tools to help you develop a giving garden on your property.
Erin Drinnin

About The Author: Erin Drinnin

Erin Drinnin is United Way's Community Impact Officer for Health.