Gardening to Give program engages over 600 Iowans

Maks from Fremont County shows off his harvest of Roma tomatoes.

AMES, Iowa — During the 2021 gardening season, participants in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Gardening to Give program engaged over 600 Iowans who donated nearly 3,000 lbs. of produce to local food pantries and citizens in their communities across the state.

Gardening to Give was developed by 4-H youth development and human sciences staff with ISU Extension and Outreach. Beginning in March, registered participants received monthly, research-based lessons on gardening. Topics ranged from different types of gardens and food preservation to garden tools and plant diseases, and everything in between. Emphasis was put on growing produce for donations in local communities across the state. The eight-month program ended Nov. 1.

Gardening to Give began in 2020, stemming from the need to create a program that people could do with their families or individually, as many families were spending more time at home. The program provides opportunities for Iowans of all ages and abilities to get involved in the gardening and growing process.

"This year, Gardening to Give focused on reaching out to your local food pantry before planting your garden and asking what produce clients would like,” said Katie Sorrell, policy, systems and environment change coordinator with Human Sciences Extension and Outreach. “There was an emphasis on the food pantry clients, who ultimately benefit from the fresh fruits and vegetables.”

At the beginning of each month, registrants received a digital newsletter, which contained that month’s lessons, a hands-on activity, gardening resources, program highlights and a produce feature complete with a healthy recipe from Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Each lesson included how-to information, research, activities and resources for youth and adult learning. The program provided participants with the opportunity to submit photos and harvest totals throughout the growing season to demonstrate their gardening progress. Participants in the program were also encouraged to donate their produce to friends, neighbors and organizations in need in their communities. The program engaged over 600 individuals from 180 households in 64 Iowa counties.

Youth participants from Fremont County, Mackenzie, Madeleine and Maks, members of the Silver Skylarks 4-H club, were among the program participants to share their progress throughout the summer and fall.

“My favorite part of the Gardening to Give program was picking (harvesting) the plants and being champion picker one of the days against my brother and sister,” said Madeleine. Younger brother, Maks, explained that he was not a fan of weeding the garden but had fun canning the jalapenos and tomatoes to make salsa. The three siblings plan to gift their 10 jars of salsa to friends and family this holiday season.

Though the gardening season has wrapped up in Iowa, Iowa 4-H Youth Development is looking forward to continuing the program through the ISU Extension and Outreach county offices in 2022.

To learn more about the Gardening to Give program and Iowa 4-H Youth Development visit