Grow Well aims to feed hungry Missourians

Grow Well partners with food pantries throughout Missouri to give sustainable food to those in need.

Across the state, people have struggled with gaining access to not only enough food, but enough of the right food. In the past year and a half, though, Missourians have reaped the benefits of a program called Grow Well Missouri.

Grow Well Missouri, a program by the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security (ICFS) at MU, is taking action to supply food pantries with healthy alternatives.

“(Hunger) is something that is a local problem and can be addressed locally,” said Sandy Rikoon, ICFS Director and professor of rural sociology. “It’s something that involves communities and something that folks can get their hands around and, I think, do something about locally.”

In the Missouri communities of Mexico, Columbia, St. James and Shelbina, Grow Well partners with food pantries to give those in need of sustainable food access to the tools necessary to create their own gardens.

“When people come to pick up food at the food pantries in those spots, we also will have a table set up with our seeds and gardening materials and things like that,” ICFS employee Bill McKelvey said. “We also provide educational materials with hope that they will have successful gardens.”

The program came about during an ICFS survey of Missourians visiting food pantries. When asked how the patrons got their food, 40 percent of food pantry clients claimed that gardens were one of their resources, a statistic that stood out to researchers.

From that information, the idea of Grow Well Missouri formed. The program was designed to support those collecting their food from gardens and strengthen their gardening.

In 2012, a pilot test was conducted handing out seeds, which proved successful. Of those people given seeds, most were open minded and responsive to the idea. This drove the program to apply for a grant through the Missouri Foundation for Health, which they were awarded.

“This is an issue that both the public and private sectors are trying to do something about,” Rikoon said. “Not just having people stay above hunger, but trying to increase food security levels.”

Grow Well Missouri has proved successful so far. From those that the program has heard back from, gardens are going well, McKelvey said.

“About 90 percent of people are sharing produce from their gardens with friends, families and neighbors,” McKelvey said. “We also hear back from folks who have increased the size of their garden.”

Gardening provides Missourians with fresh food, a healthy alternative to the processed foods more commonly found in food pantries. According to McKelvey, food pantry clients are often diabetic and struggle with other health issues due to the difficulty in obtaining healthy food.

Rikoon said that due to lack of refrigeration and being limited to the food donated, food pantries often carry food more calorie dense than nutrition-based, with longer shelf lives. Through the help of Grow Well Missouri, people are given easier access to cheap and healthy food by growing it themselves.

Graduate student Darren Chapman works on the Grow Well project and said the program is not only providing healthy food options to the public, but introducing them to gardening as well.

“The impact of the program varies between each community; however, I feel that the project is opening up a younger generation to the idea of gardening,” Chapman said. “Furthermore, it is connecting people from various walks of life within communities and providing fresh and healthy food options for many people who couldn't afford to purchase it.”

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