The fight against food insecurity: Johnson County group turns to fresh produce

Community Garden
Grow: Johnson County hopes to receive a Seeds of Change grant to grow produce for hunger relief. — photo by chanzi via Flickr Creative Commons

For the 14.2 percent of Johnson County residents that are food insecure, access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be extremely difficult to come by. Cost can be prohibitive, and food relief agencies’ limited resources often prevent them from supplying many healthy choices.

But a new project called Grow: Johnson County (GJC) is working to improve access to fresh produce for area residents who are food insecure.

“The Johnson County Hunger Task Force has identified lack of access to healthy food as one of the primary struggles facing food insecure residents of our county,” said John Boller, co-founder of Grow: Johnson County. “This project will infuse local food pantries, homeless shelters and meal programs with a steady supply of healthy food — making it more accessible for those who cannot afford it.”

County officials recently awarded GJC with two acres of land at the site of the historic Johnson County Poor Farm. They will use that land to start a sustainable, organic, volunteer-run farm that will donate all yields to Table to Table to be distributed among food relief programs around Johnson County. The farm will also provide educational opportunities about all aspects of sustainable farming to the local community.

To help fund this project, GJC has entered the Seeds of Change grant competition, which for the last three years has awarded money to organizations in order to establish sustainable gardening, farming and education programs in their communities. This year, GJC hopes to be awarded as much as $20,000.

GJC will spend the remainder of 2015 conditioning the soil and making preparations for the project. Food production and distribution will begin in 2016, with the goal of growing 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of produce for distribution throughout the community. The funding from the Seeds for Change grant would go towards expanding the project’s capabilities with resources such as hoop houses, or perhaps even a greenhouse, as well as hiring a part-time farm manager to coordinate volunteers.

To help GJC win the grant, community members can vote daily for the project at the Seeds of Change website until April 27. Grant recipients will be announced in early May.

The Seeds of Change competition is only the beginning, Boller says, adding that as the farm’s operations begin, community support will be crucial.

“A project of this scale requires a collective effort — meaning, we will need a lot of helping hands,” Boller said. “There will be plenty of opportunities for community members to get their hands dirty and help us make a difference.”

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