Nebraska Extension Master Gardeners love to garden, and when their vegetable plots produce too much of a good thing, they love to share that surplus produce.
Last year, two Nebraska Extension programs, SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program- Education) and the Nebraska Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program, joined forces to start Cultivating Health Our Way (CHOW). This program provides a conduit between surplus produce and people in need.
It can be difficult for SNAP participants to get fresh fruits and vegetables, said Morgan Hartline, Nebraska Extension educator working with SNAP-Ed. "It's something not everyone gets. Through CHOW, this produce is going to people who want it." Another benefit of CHOW is that SNAP-Ed can provide education about nutritional values and ways to use and enjoy new foods, she added.
Forty Master Gardeners tended five CHOW gardens across the state in 2017. Together, the gardens donated more than 18,000 pounds of produce worth approximately $24,000, said Terri James, Nebraska Extension educator and coordinator of the Nebraska Master Gardeners. This year, the number of gardens participating in CHOW is increasing to nine, sparked by the interest of Master Gardeners and clients across the state.
One CHOW affiliate is tied to the Backyard Farmer television show. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln Backyard Farmer Garden on East Campus donated its harvest to needy Lincolnites nearby last year. Extension Master Gardener volunteers teamed with the nonprofit group Produce From the Heart to deliver produce to area food banks and other food distribution sites.
Produce From the Heart was an integral part of the program's success, said Margo Young, Master Gardener volunteer. "Produce From the Heart solved the problem of knowing who needs what where and when they are open for deliveries," she said. "And it was gratifying to hear Produce From the Heart deliver feedback on how popular certain crops were … especially fresh sweet corn!"