Whether you are a first-time or a long-time gardener, there’s an opportunity this summer to grow extra food to help those in need.
A group of passionate patients at the UCHealth Family Medicine Center (FMC) Food Pantry in Fort Collins is rallying neighbors to grow an extra row in their gardens this summer to support the pantry’s increasing food demand. In the first three months of 2023, the FMC saw a 50% increase in the number of families they serve.
The pantry is offering free seeds through May, while supplies last, at 1025 Pennock Place, Suite 109, in Fort Collins. Everyone is welcome to participate in the “grow a row for the community” program and get a free seed packet.
“This is a reach-across-the-fence concept,” said Kat Holiday, who lives in Eaton, Colorado and serves on FMC’s patient and family advisory council. Growing up, she remembers reaching over her fence to offer her neighbors an extra squash or zucchini from their garden and her neighbors doing the same.
“We used to do these things naturally, but COVID slowed that. Our council said, ‘We’ve had enough.’ No matter what side of the fence you’re on, you can still make a difference. Take that effort. Make that reach.”
Holiday, a filmmaker and musician, said she serves on the council to give back to FMC, which has supported her health care needs for the past 30 years. She also needed the pantry a few times since its inception in 2017. She appreciated that it was a safe, nonjudgmental place to get healthy food.
And she’s not alone in experiencing food insecurity. In 2022, the pantry served 2,101 households, distributing more than 300,000 pounds of food during 11,472 visits. In the first three months of 2023, the pantry served 2,735 individuals, up 59% compared with the first three months of 2022. Of those visits, 792 people were first-time users.
Partnerships with community organizations help stock the pantry shelves, as well as food purchased through grants. In 2022, community organizations donated 800 pounds of locally grown produce. Great Harvest donated more than 2,500 pounds of bread, and Sprouts donated more than 4,700 pounds of food.
The FMC Food Pantry is open to the community, but many patrons also receive health care through FMC. FMC serves about 175 patients daily, 68% of whom are enrolled in Medicaid. After recognizing food insecurity in their patients, FMC leadership opened the on-site pantry to make health care services and nutritious food available in one visit. The pantry’s model focuses on the client being able to choose the items they want, and it can cater to each client’s dietary restrictions, whether for health or personal reasons.
“Large things come from humble beginnings,” Holiday said, adding that she hopes that the grow-a-row effort, just like the produce in her garden, grows to become an annual force to support the needs of neighbors across the fence.
Seeds are available at FMC and the pantry, 1025 Pennock Place, in Fort Collins, through May. The pantry is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday from noon to 5 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.
When your clean crop is ready, you can drop it off at the pantry. No donation is too small.