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Published September 27, 2019
University of Wyoming Extension is partnering with the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) to make offering fresh produce possible.
The newly constructed, 21-foot geodome at the Afton Extension Office and Community Center in Lincoln County will help the effort continue.
Geodomes extend the growing season but can offer so much more. In Afton, the geodome will be the centerpiece of a partnership among CNP, the Afton Food Pantry, Afton 4-H and Lincoln County agriculture and horticulture, among other community partners.
Shelley Balls, the Lincoln County CNP educator, says the geodome will be a place for community horticulture programming and hands-on learning for students -- as well as a way to give back to the community.
“We’re excited to use the geodome as an educational facility but also as a place to grow fresh produce for the Afton Food Pantry,” Balls says.
The Afton Food Pantry and CNP began working on a Healthy Food Pantry Project in late 2018. Balls helped the pantry secure grants that resulted in new refrigerators for the pantry and enabled it to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for pantry patrons.
Sierra Mitchell, director of the Afton Food Pantry, calls this the healthy fresh fruits and vegetables incentive.
“I never thought we’d be having fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Mitchell, who started the pantry three years ago. “It is not something that ever dawned on me. You think of a food bank, and you think dry goods. When Shelley came to us with the healthy fresh fruits and vegetables incentive, we went, ‘This is an amazing fit!’”
Mitchell purchases fresh fruits and vegetables for pantry patrons every week, and patrons look forward to the weekly produce.
“The patrons light up when they see a table full of fresh produce and milk and eggs and cheese,” Mitchell adds.
Mitchell and Balls are looking for ways to keep fresh produce available as the grant funding for the pantry to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables ends.
“We’re trying to get a sustainable system so we don’t need as much funding every year in order to offer those produce items every week,” Balls says.
The geodome provides an avenue to help accomplish this sustainability.
“We are to be a beneficiary of some of those plots within that geodome, so that is a way that we will be able to grow more produce to benefit our patrons,” Mitchell says.
Securing volunteers, especially in the summer, is one of the challenges Balls and Mitchell see. This is where community partnerships become essential.
Hudson Hill, agriculture and horticulture extension educator in Afton, and Shar Perry, the Afton 4-H and youth development educator, both with UW Extension, will provide programming in the geodome. Don McAdams, a board member for the Afton Food Pantry, plans to involve local students.
“Don McAdams, a teacher at Swift Creek High School, has a lot of gardening experience,” Balls adds. “He is bringing some students over and doing a lot of work in the geodome, having them work, see their plants grow and then be able to donate that to the Afton Food Pantry.”
The newly formed geodome board has some planning to do, including purchasing water troughs, which will be used for the garden plots inside the geodome. Next spring, the growing will begin, with many helping hands along the way.
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture, as part of the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, funded the geodome. Ted Craig, who administers the grant, coordinated the build along with Coleman Griffith, Balls, Mitchell, Shane Robinson, Shar Perry, Lincoln County Commissioner Bob King, and community volunteers Ted Carlisle, and Jim and Susan Heartline.