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Gardening for Iowans in need

The Giving Garden

This summer, more than 40 staff volunteers are planting, weeding, watering and harvesting the Giving Garden at Farm Bureau’s West Des Moines office.

The tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and other vegetables grown in the Giving Garden are donated to the Food Bank of Iowa’s warehouse in Des Moines.

Farm Bureau joined the corporate Giving Garden project two years ago, at the invitation of the United Way of Central Iowa.

Shirley Burgess, volunteer engagement officer at the United Way of Central Iowa, said the organization first got the idea to launch a corporate garden project after learning about a similar program in Minnesota.

The United Way of Central Iowa asked Farm Bureau and two other Des Moines metro companies – Guide One Insurance and John Deere Financial – to participate in the first year of its Giving Garden program.

“We call it the ultimate on-site volunteer project,” Burgess says. “You don’t even have to leave the workplace to do this one.”

Despite a dry summer, and a few Japanese beetles, the Farm Bureau Giving Garden yielded a hefty bounty last year. The staff volunteers grew and delivered more than 1,600 pounds of produce to the Food Bank of Iowa.

In total, the three Des Moines-area corporate gardens donated more than 3,300 pounds of fresh produce to local food banks in 2014.

“Over 1,200 individuals got a full day’s produce requirement, five servings of produce, as a result of (the corporate gardens),” Burgess says. “And each piece makes a difference. There is way more need out there than what we are providing, but this is a place to start.”

Food pantries report that fresh produce is always in short supply. Families on a limited budget often must skip the produce aisle even though fresh fruits and vegetables are essential to a healthy diet.

Burgess says the Giving Garden program not only helps feed families in need, but also advances the United Way’s goal to help Iowa achieve the healthiest state in the nation status.

After a successful first year, the Giving Garden program expanded to two more sites in 2015. This spring, Wells Fargo in West Des Moines planted a corporate garden. In addition, Des Moines University partnered with its neighbor, Wesley Life retirement community, to plant a raised-bed garden to grow produce for local food pantries.

Burgess says the United Way hopes the Giving Garden program will continue to grow and recruit more businesses and individuals to participate – even if it means just planting a “container garden” to grow a few vegetables for food pantries.

“It’s great to connect passion with need, and this Giving Garden (program) does just that,” Burgess says. “Not only are our businesses passionate about getting their employees engaged in an activity that is meaningful, but the employees are passionate about gardening. It’s just great to see the energy around this.”

For more information about the United Way of Central Iowa’s Giving Garden program, and how you can get involved, visit www.unitedwaydsm.org. Click on “Community Impact” and then “Health” to find the Giving Gardens webpage.

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