By Lucinda Greene, Colorado Master Gardener Program Coordinator and Assistant Horticulturist
The Grow & Give program is a new initiative of the Colorado Master Gardener program, launched in the spring of 2020, to support food insecure populations throughout the state. Modeled on the Victory Garden movement of World War II, this program encourages home gardeners to learn to grow their own food and donate any excess to local food banks or families in need. Because of job loss and the economic downturn that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, incidences of hunger throughout the state have increased. With the closing of schools, families with students who previously relied on national school breakfast and lunch programs were impacted.
In 2018 data, approximately 58,770 citizens or 9.2% of the Arapahoe County population were considered food insecure. April survey information from the USDA and Feeding America.org, show that those estimates are expected to rise to 14.3% in Arapahoe County for the 2020 year. Approximately 7% of families in Colorado receive hunger assistance support from federal programs. However, many food insecure families are not eligible for federal assistance.
During the 2020 growing season, over 600 gardens were registered statewide with the Grow and Give program. As of mid-October, over 44,000 pounds of produce were donated. Through its website, https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/grow-give/, the Grow & Give program supported the local growing and donation effort by providing substantial educational resources, including a new vegetable growing guide, and connected grower donors to local food bank locations through an online map.
Colorado Master Gardeners in Arapahoe County have a long tradition of providing service and impact to our local communities. For over 12 years, volunteers have grown food at local demonstration gardens to deliver to food-insecure populations in our county. These demonstration gardens are located at Hudson Gardens, the Pea Patch Community Garden in downtown Littleton, and at Silo Park in Greenwood Village. Since students were not present for most of 2020, our team at the Colorado Center for the Blind pivoted their efforts to grow food for a local pay-as-you-can café in downtown Littleton, the GraceFull Cafe.
Over 3,775 pounds of produce were contributed to local food banks and houses of worship out of these four gardens in 2020. Nearly all the Arapahoe County Master Gardener volunteers contributed to food production at one or more of the demonstration gardens throughout the summer.
Individual Master Gardener volunteers from Arapahoe County added to the totals by contributing produce from their own backyard gardens! Through October 2020, 12 volunteers contributed over 673 pounds of produce. Congratulations to Arapahoe County volunteers who contributed almost 10% of the state total.
Favorite crops included beans, carrots, greens, herbs, onions, squash, zucchini, and tomatoes. Currently, the volunteers from each of the gardens are compiling a list of best varieties to share with gardeners in our community. Sheila Gains, the Family and Consumer Science agent for CSU Extension in Arapahoe County developed recipes to share with the food banks. Donations of fresh produce were especially appreciated because produce is a more expensive item that is not often available to food-insecure families with very strict budgets. Kudos to our outstanding volunteers who continued their tradition of high-impact community service!