Growing to give

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Roll up your sleeves and get to work, West Liberty, the seeds of a Community Donation Garden are being planted with the goal of feeding the hungry.

The summer project, tilled just last week, looks barren at the moment. But as the summer wears on all of its fresh produce will be donated to the West Liberty Food Pantry, operated out of First Church United.

“It’s more than just a garden, it’s science,” says Master Gardener Ed Moreno. “But the basis is food security, helping people have food through donations to the garden.”

The 30 by 50 foot garden is located just behind the West Liberty Community center on church property. It receives water from the former and oversight from the latter.

At its heart the Community Donation Garden us just that, a community project spurned by donations, with organizations and volunteers being involved in every aspect from gathering seeds to planting.

Even the 6th graders from the West Liberty Dream Catchers have gotten involved, they helped prepare the land and plant several seeds with help from community member Tim Davidson.

The original idea began with a grant offered through the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach office and the hard work of several Muscatine Master Gardeners.

As for the seeds themselves, they’re coming from a variety of sources. There’s straight up donations, such as tomatoes from Zach Morris and the local chapter of the FFA.

Then there’s the local Master Gardeners, using their own resources to either purchase discounted seeds or give organizations a chance to donate their own seeds.

It’s going to be quite a mix of produce once all is said and done:

Three varieties of tomatoes, green peppers, squash and potatoes and cabbage. Soon to be added to the garden will be green beans, melons, broccoli, ochre, egg plant, cauliflower, brussel sprouts…

“All that’s grown here will go to this food pantry first,” says Pastor Marian Hart of First Church United. “If it doesn’t all get consumed we’ll offer it to the Wilton/Durant Food Pantry or the nursing home while it’s still fresh.”

The West Liberty Food Pantry serves, on average, around 80 to 90 local people a month. It’s a number that rises to as much as 100 families during Christmas time.

“One of our goals is to get the word out to more people in need for the food pantry,” adds Hart. “Steps are being taken right now to do just that.”

There’s also some restructuring going on with the pantry in an attempt to get more church and community involvement. Pastor Hart recently received a grant to start a small fruit orchard for it.

As for the Community Donation Garden garden, it’s going to take a lot of work.

Volunteers and purchases of grant funded items need to be coordinated, produce needs to be weighed and data evaluated for the Muscatine Extension office. Receipts are due to the Muscatine County Extension for reimbursement by Sept. 8, 2017.

Then you have planting, weeding, harvesting and the general TLC it takes to make a good garden grow. That’s were the community comes in, that’s where you can come in.

“We have to blend it all, and there will be numbers we have to record,” says Master Gardener Ed Moreno, who will be coordinating the volunteerism. He also hopes to get Hy-Vee involved.

“There’s a number of things that can come out of this,” he says. “People can learn about gardening by coming out here to participate.”

Donation Gardening isn’t exactly a new idea, there are several others around Iowa. However, this will be West Liberty’s largest foray into the endeavor.

According to ISU, one in eight Iowans is food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to enough food to make up a healthy diet.

But, gardeners have a chance to make a difference!

First Church United was already into the growing game before the garden came along, it has several raised bedsfull of radishes, lettuce and carrots that will soon need to be harvested.

“We’ll play with anybody that wants to play, a community garden is pretty cool,” says Moreno. “It has that added benefit of serving the community.”

To those thant want to get involved, contact Ed Moreno at or Pastor Marian Hart at

Or, if you just want to donate to the food pantry talk to someone with First Church United or other local churches. The pantry takes food and cash donations. In fact, cash allows the West Liberty Food Pantry to buy the specific food it needs at a discount.
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