Fresh produce grows in abundance in Iowa but is sparse on local food bank shelves.
The Hausler family of Iowa City and other volunteers at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church wanted to do something about that. They started Lettuce Feed Others, a community garden that grows vegetables for the Johnson County Crisis Center.
When St. Andrew purchased land at 602 Camp Cardinal Rd. in Iowa City a few years ago as a future site for a new church building, congregation members decided to use the space for a garden until construction was underway.
Last year church member Peg Hausler and her daughter Anna Hausler, who graduated from Iowa City West High School this spring, reorganized the space into the Lettuce Feed Others project, consulting with a master gardener and the Crisis Center about the food bank’s needs.
“They realized there was such a need for access to fresh food, especially local and organic produce,” said Anna’s sister Molly Schintler, who took over this year as Lettuce Feed Others garden director after moving back to Iowa City from New York.
Schintler coordinates the garden space as a volunteer when she’s not working at Salt Fork Farms in Solon. She said a project like this makes perfect sense in a place with a wealth of people interested in local food and farming, and many of those people had chipped in expertise and resources. She said about 75 people have been involved with the garden project this year.
“The food community in Iowa City is so vast and strong,” she said. “We’ve been able to make connections to continue to grow the garden.”
Volunteers plant, harvest and package the produce. So far this year, they’ve already delivered radishes spinach and greens, complete with “Lettuce Feed Others” labels, to the Crisis Center.
Last year, the volunteer gardeners grew 1,500 pounds of food for the Crisis Center. Schintler said, if weather and pests cooperate, she expects the garden plot, which is about 45 by 95 feet, to produce even more this season. She said the garden will be able to continue on the church’s property in coming years, even after St. Andrew’s construction starts.
Crisis Center food bank coordinator Kaila Rome said the group’s efforts are welcome.
“There’s definitely a need for fresh produce in our food bank,” she said. “It’s very popular; it’s always requested. Fresh vegetables and fruit always go fast.”
The Crisis Center will work with any gardener who has excess vegetables, whether they’re looking to donate a handful of tomatoes or set up a regular donation. To donate visit http://jccrisiscenter.org/ or call (319) 351-2726.
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