LEE COUNTY – Lee County Health Department’s first year of the Senior Produce Box Project has come to an end. The goal of the project was to get fresh produce donations into the hands of seniors, and that is exactly what happened. Over 44 different varieties of produce with over 4400 pieces of produce were donated to the project.
“We could not be more thrilled with how the first year of the project went,” said Emily Biddenstadt, LCHD Community Outreach Coordinator.
“Each time a delivery was made to a site the residents would be excited to see what was brought in.”
The project was a result from the Lee County Community Health Needs Assessment from which LCHD received a grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health. The goal to work with food producers to offer locally grown fresh produce at rural ‘food deserts’ in the county was one of the focus’ of the grant. The seven participating sites that had produce boxes were Southview Apartments in Donnellson, Park View Apartments in West Point, Hillview Apartments and Newberry Center in Fort Madison, and River Terrace, Mississippi Terrace, and Heritage Center in Keokuk. Star Park in Denmark also a participated with a community table.
Surveys were conducted at the sites to get feedback from residents on what they liked and disliked about the program. The need for more items and less of others were expressed, but the main theme of the surveys was “thank you.” The only complaint seemed to be how quickly the produce would disappear. “To me that shows a real need in the area for the senior population,” Biddenstadt said.
To give an idea of the amount of produce donated: 628 cherry tomatoes, 664 cucumbers (47% of those donated came from Milo’s Market), 556 tomatoes, 506 jalapeno/hot peppers, 266 pear tomatoes, 370 sweet corn, 300 bell peppers, 228 banana peppers, 140 zucchini, and 66 potatoes.
“We really want to thank our Fort Madison and Keokuk Farmer’s Market vendors for their donations. We would visit them every other week to collect donations at the end of market, and they were always generous with what they gave,” she said.
Another focus from the county assessment was to increase the number of community gardens which resulted in the Garden Project at the Lee County Conservation which was funded with a grant from the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Four garden beds were built by the Conservation staff, and with the help of the ISU Extension & Outreach produce was planted. The garden was maintained with the help of a 10-week Youth Garden Camp over the summer that was put on by the extension office.
“The youth helped plant and pick the gardens, and they were able to taste the produce too,” said Breana Houtz, ISU Extension & Outreach Lee County Youth Coordinator.
The Garden Project was a learning experience for everyone involved. No one had any experience growing watermelons so the two that were picked was an accomplishment for everyone.
Plans for year two of the project are already underway. A new tracking system is already being developed, and outreach to the sites will begin early Spring 2019.
“The main goal for the next year will be volunteers. We would like to have a few volunteers to help with the Youth Garden Camp, the picking of produce, and possibly delivering the produce,” said Biddenstadt.
Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about the Produce Box and Garden Project can call Lee County Health Department at (319)372-5225.