Gardening for Local Food Access

September 8, 2017

Vegetables from the Natrona County CNP garden

At the start of summer, Natrona County CNP was given a plot in the UW Extension Master Gardener community garden to use in their efforts to increase access to fresh produce for community members with limited resources. The goal was for the garden to provide CNP class participants with new educational opportunities while the produce harvested from the garden would go to food pantries and other agencies in the area to increase access to fresh vegetables for the low-income population. As the garden came together, it became a place for partnerships to flourish and for community to develop.

In early summer, CNP collaborated with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Wyoming to help plant the garden. The Boys and Girls Club offers programs and services that are based on academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character and citizenship. Youth in the program this summer helped plant beans and zucchini in the CNP garden.  In addition, they learned about food safety, MyPlate, the life cycle of plants and what plants need to grow, where food comes from and how it is harvested, and about eating healthy. As the summer progressed, youth in the program were able to come back and see how the plants were developing. The Boys and Girls Club also received some of the produce to use for healthy snacks.

Wyoming Independent Living (WIL) in Casper is another group that learned in and benefited from the CNP garden. WIL is a non-profit agency that helps adults with disabilities live independent lives and participate in their communities. Natrona County CNP started a partnership with WIL after they approached one of the CNP educators with an interest in both cooking and gardening.WIL participants in the garden

The educator taught the CNP adult curriculum to WIL participants and included working in the garden as part of the class series. Each week the class spent 15-20 minutes in the garden. Participants were physically active while taking ownership in the garden, doing things such as weeding and watering. Each week, the participants’ interest and excitement about the garden increased. This in turn created positive changes on the food recalls (diet analysis) at the end of the series. The educator noticed big changes between the entry and exit recalls, with higher consumption of fruits and vegetables and more cooking from scratch.

One of the participants told the educator that over the 8-week series, she lost 14 pounds. Her doctor was very impressed with her drop in weight, but also with her blood work. She talked about how the CNP program was really helping her make better choices and think twice about sugary foods and beverages. Other participants also mentioned their shopping habits improving and that they were saving money at the grocery store. WIL received donations from the garden for participants to use in their cooking at home.

CNP educator Krista makes smoothies at the Salvation Army

CNP class participants were not the only ones who benefited from the CNP garden. Several of the food pantries in Casper, including the Salvation Army and Holy Cross, as well as agencies such as the Central Wyoming Rescue Mission, received donated produce each week. This was made possible not only by the CNP garden, but also by the generosity of the other gardeners in the community garden. Earlier in the summer, CNP emailed all the community gardeners and asked if they would be willing to give any extra produce to CNP to donate. The response from the community gardeners was overwhelmingly positive. CNP set out baskets in the garden to collect extra produce and, combined with the harvest from their own garden, CNP has been able to donate over 200 pounds of produce this summer. 

The Salvation Army staff is excited about the produce and told CNP that it always goes quickly during food pickup. CNP educators attended pick-up days several times throughout the summer to share samples and recipes for the fresh vegetables. The Rescue Mission is using the produce in the central kitchen as well as passing it on to residents who have their own cooking facilities.

In addition to using the garden to donate produce, CNP has taken it one step further to use the produce from the garden as an incentive for SNAP recipients to use their benefits at the farmers’ market. SNAP recipients who redeem their benefits at the farmers’ market receive a CNP coupon. Recipients can then go to the CNP booth to pick up free produce as well as recipes and samples that use produce from the market.

Through classes, donations, and incentives at the farmers’ market, the CNP garden has helped increase access to local food and to encourage low-income audiences to seek out opportunities to add fresh produce to their diets. In the future, CNP would like to expand the garden to allow more opportunities for teaching and to grow more produce for donation.

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