Growing Together Nebraska (GTN) is a community garden project that increases food security and promotes healthy food access for families and individuals. This project engages active Extension Master Gardeners Volunteers (EMGV), local community organizations, and volunteers to build and manage gardens to improve access to affordable, nutritious, and safe foods. Nebraska’s efforts feed into a Growing Together multi-state (Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming) SNAP-Ed project.
Over the last six years, Nebraska Extension’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed), in partnership with local community partners, has provided fresh, locally grown produce to those in need in Nebraska during the growing season. Over 176,580 pounds (529,742 servings) of produce were grown and/or rescued and donated to an estimated 41,862 individuals (2019-21) with limited resources. Over the last three years, hundreds of volunteers, including EMGV, donated nearly 20,000 hours of their time to assist with local projects. Since 2016, fresh produce has been distributed to at least 75 recipient agencies valued at $501,000.
GTN sites provide nutrition and gardening education, food demonstrations, and produce and/or recipe samples to youth and adults. The goal is to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption and improve knowledge and skills. In 2021, 1,766 participants received Seasonal Nebraska Nutrition Education Activity Kit (SNNEAK) handouts. These handouts are used to teach individuals the nutritional benefits and how to select, store, and use produce. They also include recipes that promote produce consumption.
In addition to the SNNEAK handouts,
- Education was shared via social media, mainly on county Facebook pages. Sites encouraged individuals to seek out online resources in place of paper handouts.
- Educational articles were written for local newspapers.
Following an educational lesson and food demonstration, one participant shared that the chopping of the large head of cabbage was helpful as they had never used or purchased a head of cabbage because they weren't sure how to wash and cut it.
The Siouxland Community Health Center (SCHC) of Nebraska partnered with the Voices for Food (VFF) Project to establish a "hub" location for daily produce drop off to increase fresh produce access for low-income medical clients. Since SCHC serves low income clients with medical needs and is open daily, this partnership was mutually beneficial. SCHC clients can pick up produce and along with educational materials that teach them about the nutritional value and tips on how to select, prepare, and store the available produce items.
Produce recipients have shared how the program has benefited them:
- “This produce stretches my food budget and it is very much appreciated!”
- “These vegetable donations have been a life-saver as I live on a fixed income and do not have the ability or place to have a garden.”
The project started in 2018 with two raised beds and has since expanded to nine, allowing participants to grow produce on site.
“Our patients, many who come from low-income households, have expressed extreme appreciation for the opportunity to come to our health center to pick up fresh produce. They are able to better adhere to the nutritional guidance given to them when they are in our exam rooms. We screen our patients annually for social determinants of health, which includes food insecurity and this partnership has been a great addition to our efforts to address social determinants of health.” -SCHC Medical Director, Dave Faldmo
The success of this partnership exceeded expectations! More than 11,000 pounds of produce have been made available (by community donations and grown on site) to over 2,660 medical clients with low income. This collaborative effort coordinated by Nebraska Extension SNAP-Ed engages partners in the community to strengthen the food system.
In 2021, twenty-eight different entities partnered with Nebraska Extension SNAP-Ed to help make the GTN project successful. Partnering entities donated resources such as: time, talent, expertise, water, lumber, plants, seeds, soil, mulch, fencing supplies, tiller, tractor, land space, storage space, marketing/media coverage, other garden supplies, as well as funds. Not all in-kind resources were quantifiable, but for those that had a quantifiable value, $10,936.02 was the combined value of in-kind donations during the growing season.
The extensive and valuable partnerships of the GTN project are a testament of the sustainability of the change that forms in the GTN communities. Food pantries and other donation sites appreciate the produce donations, especially when they are short on donated food items and/or have a need for more culturally appropriate produce.
Natalie Sehi MS, RDN
Extension Educator, SNAP-Ed & EFNEP
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Nutrition & Health Sciences
Lincoln, NE 68583-0806