Through SNAP-Education, a vital component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Americans with low income are gaining knowledge and skills to make healthy food choices and increase their physical activity, resulting in healthier lives at home, in school, and at work. In partnership with Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provides critical “Ed” to to the SNAP program in Iowa.
Iowans of all income levels eat fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended, and consumption is lowest among those with low income. Nearly 13 percent of Iowa’s population is food insecure – they don’t have adequate access to food to make up a healthy diet. According to a 2014 Feeding America study, Iowa food pantry clients want fresh produce, but it’s often unavailable.
In 2015, ISU Extension and Outreach SNAP-Ed and Master Gardeners began partnering with local food pantries to reduce food insecurity and improve healthy food access in the state. This partnership, called Growing Together Iowa, provides education about food insecurity, offers mini grants to support volunteer donation gardening projects, and donates produce from model demonstration gardens. Getting more produce into the food pantry environment increases access for families who otherwise may not be able to afford fresh fruits and vegetables.
In 2017, Growing Together Iowa awarded mini grants to 15 counties. The funding helped provide materials and mileage reimbursement to volunteers who grew produce for food pantry donations. Six demonstration gardens were planted at Iowa State University research farms, with the resulting produce also donated to local food pantries. In addition, SNAP-Ed partnered with Grow Johnson County and Table to Table Food Rescue to increase access to fruits and vegetables in food pantries in southeast Iowa.
Growing Together Iowa volunteers harvested and donated nearly 75,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to more than 75food pantries, meal sites, and shelters across Iowa. In all, 231 Master Gardeners and 457 additional volunteers gave their time to the project. In addition, the partnership with Table to Table led to more than 155,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables distributed through food pantries, for a total distribution of nearly 230,000 pounds of fresh produce. At three servings per pound, the 2017 combined harvest yielded nearly 690,000 servings of fresh produce for Iowans with low income.
However, the benefits of nutrition education extend far beyond the growing season. Iowa State University SNAP-Ed includes nutrition education and skill-building opportunities for families through the Buy. Eat. Live Healthy program. 2017 graduates report making significant changes to improve their health: 45 percent are eating more fruit, 46 percent are eating more vegetables, and 89 percent have improved their nutrition practices. Through Cooperative Extension, SNAP-Ed in Iowa:
- Helps families learn how to budget their food dollars, develop food preparation skills, and make wise food choices to help themselves and their children stay healthy.
- Connects individuals and families with low income to healthy resources in their neighborhoods and communities.
SNAP-Ed benefits millions of Americans, and under the U.S. House of Representatives’ proposed 2018 Farm Bill, Cooperative Extension will assume the lead role in implementing SNAP-Ed nationwide.
The Cooperative Extension system as a whole is positioned to ensure impactful outcomes. Because land-grant institutions are deeply embedded in their local communities, Cooperative Extension works within those communities to meet their unique needs. With more than 3,000 staff members and 23,000 volunteers, Cooperative Extension has the infrastructure to reach Americans across the nation, including SNAP-eligible participants. Additionally, as a component of the land-grant system, Cooperative Extension has the ability to apply data-driven methodologies to its educational programs, providing continued impactful outcomes for participants.
What does this mean for communities like yours in Iowa? Continued access to programs that are regularly evaluated to help the healthy choice be the easy choice for Iowans. Continued, powerful partnerships, with Iowa Department of Public Health and others, that make SNAP work better across Iowa.
Find the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach office near you to learn more about programs in your community.