New UNI project works to address food insecurity

New UNI project works to address food insecurity

As part of the university’s ongoing efforts to address food insecurity, a new University of Northern Iowa project will plant vegetable and pollinator gardens free of charge to residents of the Cedar Valley. 

UNI Garden Program

The Backyard Steward Initiative is a new program from UNI’s Green Iowa AmeriCorps, based at the Center for Energy & Environmental Education, that kicked off with a training session on garden installation recently. While the pilot project this summer will only be available in Black Hawk County, the hope is to expand the program throughout the state if it is successful.

“We started building this project with the idea that we wanted to address the barriers and increase the access of people being able to connect to their food sources,” said Ashley Craft, program director of Green Iowa AmeriCorps. “If you don’t have the equipment or the know-how or the money for labor or plants, we can show up, assess the space, put in the labor, install the plants and then provide support so people know when to harvest and have recipes to cook.”

When a resident signs up for the program, two AmeriCorps members will visit their property to assess the space, light, soil moisture and other conditions. Four AmeriCorps members will then return to prepare and install the garden.

Participating in the program also provides residents with access to helpful gardening tips, timely harvesting information, recipes and future workshops.

And while areas in the Cedar Valley have struggled with food securities for years, the onset of COVID-19 laid bare gaps in the food system and provided a push to get the program off the ground, Craft said.

“COVID-19 showed us how vulnerable we are to food insecurity and how disconnected we are from accessing our own food,” Craft said. “People had a reawakening about local food and growing their own food, and we wanted to be a resource for that and remove as many barriers as possible.”