A small group of local gardeners are helping provide food for needy Webster County residents in community gardens.
The Webster County Growing Together Donation Garden in Fort Dodge produces hundreds of pounds of fresh, nutritious produce each year for the Lord’s Cupboard food pantry, the Salvation Army and the Holy Trinity Parish food pantry.
Located on 4th Avenue South and 7th Avenue, this garden is the result of the Extension and Outreach Master Gardeners Program at Iowa State University. The Growing Together program launched in 2016 and provides small grants to communities to build and maintain these gardens statewide.
Fort Dodge Gardens opened in 2019. The City of Fort Dodge donated a dilapidated former city-owned garden and provided free water and mulch for the project.
According to the ISU Extension and Outreach Office, one in eight Iowans is food insecure. The Donation Garden Project aims to increase access to fruits and vegetables, as well as provide nutrition and gardening education to food-insecure people.
Last year, Fort Dodge Gardens donated about 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to local pantries, according to master gardener and garden organizer Doug Brightman.
“We are serving an important need in our community.” Brightman said. “And locally grown fresh produce is more nutritious than what is shipped.”
Melanie Fierke, director of The Lord’s Cupboard at Fort Dodge, said the food pantry appreciates the work the gardeners do each year.
“We are very fortunate to have partnered with them and given so many of our clients something they couldn’t afford on their own.” she said. “So it’s actually a blessing to be able to get fresh produce from someone’s garden.”
Brightman has six master gardeners and eight community volunteers who plant, tend and harvest fruit and vegetables each year. Last year, a youth group from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church also volunteered.
The garden will enter its fifth growing season this spring. Between 2019 and his 2022 growing season, the garden produced just over a ton of fruit and vegetables.
On Monday, Extension and Outreach Agriculture and Natural Resources awarded small grants to gardens in 30 counties. Her $2,189 grant received by Webster County Gardens will help add stilts to the gardens.
Brightman said the master gardeners are grateful to their community partners for making the garden a success. Local businesses and organizations are helping by donating supplies and offering discounts. Donation Garden’s community partners are Fort Dodge City, Beisser Lumber Co., Becker Florist & Garden Center, Menards, ISU Webster County Extension and Outreach.
Last year, a local charity, 100 Women Who Care, donated $700 to build a new garden shed, according to Brightman.
Other regional counties receiving grants include:
• Calhoun County: Expanding wheelchair-accessible gardens on Opportunity Living grounds, adding four raised garden beds for clients to plant and harvest. Produce is donated to local food pantries.
• Light: Expand endowment farms in Clarion and Rowan with the help of food pantry customers, 4-hour workers, clover kids, schoolchildren and master gardeners. Food Pantry clients are encouraged to attend five educational workshops and demonstrations, including container gardening and nutrition education.