[from the 2016 accomplishment report]
Hunger and food insecurity are real problems for many Wisconsin families. Statewide, over 573,800 people live in households that do not have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. This is a particular problem among the 13.2% of Wisconsin citizens that live in poverty and even for those whose incomes are considered above the poverty line. It is estimated that 11% of households in Wisconsin are food insecure, 15% have participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and 43 percent of public school students in K–12 were eligible for free or reduced price meals (from Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty, www.irp.wisc.edu).
MGVs work in their local communities to address food insecurity through gardening, to help families gain knowledge and skills to grow some of their own food, and make direct donations to food pantries and other organizations. Donated vegetables or the ability to grow their own food helps maintain the health of lower income families, seniors, and others experiencing difficult economic or personal situations.
In most counties there is an existing system of food pantries and excess food distribution systems that MGVs have linked to. MGVs have donated amazing amounts of fresh produce locally. Some of this donated food has been produced through Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) or similar programs.
- Portage County MGVs partner with the YMCA to plant, maintain and harvest produce from 26 raised beds located at the YMCA. The 800 pounds of produce was either consumed by the students in classes there, their families or donated to the Aging and Disability Resource Center.
- Sheboygan County MGVs partnered with others to help establish, grow and harvest a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables for the Meals on Wheels program in Sheboygan County.
- La Crosse County MGVs participate annually in the two-acre Kane Street Community Garden by planting, maintaining, and harvesting the garden. In 2016, 31,543 pounds of fruits and vegetables were harvested and distributed at the garden, at meal sites and pantries in a five county area.
- MGVs in Oneida County operate a Community Garden in cooperation with the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry which supplied over 3,000 pounds of fresh produce to the food pantry.
- Juneau County MGVs have a vegetable garden solely for the benefit of the Necedah Food Pantry, with over 800 pounds of fresh produce donated to those in need from this garden.
- Polk County MGVs planted and maintained two raised beds at an assisted living home in Centuria. All the produce grown was given to Sophie’s Manor.
- Washington County MGVs maintain a plot in each of their community gardens where all produce is donated to the local senior center. This season 650 pounds of produce were donated.
All across the state community gardens encourage individuals to become more self-sufficient by producing some of their own food, and numerous MGVs are involved with creating, developing and maintaining community gardens. Many of these community gardens are used by lower income families with no access to garden space in their homes. In many of these community gardens, MGVs not only grow produce, but also assist others to become gardeners by providing materials, information, and support. And of course, most of these gardens are multi-purpose, combining education with production for donation. In the past few years, as Community Gardens have become more popular, more and more MGVs have used these venues to engage people of all ages in gardening through various programs in these gardens across the state.
- MGVs in Clark County cooperatively created, worked and facilitated vegetable gardens in the communities of Abbotsford, Dorchester, and Neillsville.
- Through organizing volunteer groups and providing garden maintenance, Rock County MGVs contributed to the Community Sharing Gardens with Community Action Inc. in Beloit to provide a safe, open gardening space for neighbors to harvest and enjoy locally grown vegetables.
- Forest County MGVs helped create the Crandon Community Garden in coorperation with several agencies to provide healthy eating choices for residents who participate in the Meal Site.
- In Calumet County, MGVs constructed 16 raised beds at the Community Garden at Calumet Medical Center, as well as offering monthly gardening classes at the hospital.
- MGVs in Barron County transformed an unused grass field into a fenced-in, fully functional community garden with 20 400 ft2 plots, a compost pile, picnic tables, and two water tanks.
- MGVs in La Crosse County help plant, maintain and harvest in the Kane Street Community Garden, which produced 31,543 pounds of fruit and vegetables this year.
Teaching About Growing Food
Growing and donating produce only fulfills an immediate need, and does not offer a long-term solution to the problem of hunger, food insecurity and adequate nutrition. The MG Program emphasizes community education as an important component of its volunteer mission, and many groups have education programs in this area.
- Douglas County MGVs, in partnership with the Douglas County Housing Authority, hosted container garden workshops resulting in two “container community gardens” for seniors in Superior.
- MGVs in Lincoln Co. organized workshops on seed starting and pollinator planting as a partner in a Wisconsin Partnership Program Grant through the UW School of Medicine and Public Health to develop a community garden in Merrill.
These are just a few examples of the many ways MGVs throughout Wisconsin contribute to food security in our communities. Read more stories about the success of MGVs working with people in their communities on the pages in the full 2016 MG Program Annual Report.