Free seeds offered in return for an extra row grown to support FMC Food Pantry

The FMC patient family advisory council is offering seed packets to community members willing to grow an extra row of produce in their garden to donate back to the food pantry when harvested.
April 10, 2024
UCHealth Food Service Technician and FMC Food Pantry volunteer Courtney Kelley stocks the pantry. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.
Courtney Kelley, a UCHealth food service technician and volunteer at the Family Medicine Center Food Pantry, stocks the pantry in Fort Collins. Photos by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

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.

For a second year, 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 continued food demand.

In the first three months of 2024, the pantry has seen a 61% increase in visitors over the previous year.

“Our goal (with this grow-an-extra-row project) is to improve the amount of fresh produce donated to the FMC food pantry by 5% from 2023’s donation amount of 1,155 pounds,” said Elizabeth Morgan, nurse and population health project coordinator for FMC.

Free seeds are available, while supplies last, through May 31 at the pantry, 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 2023, the pantry served nearly 3,000 households, distributing more than 361,000 pounds of food during 16,353 visits. Of those visits, more than half were by families who had only started utilizing the pantry that year.

FMC Food Pantry inventory coordinator Hanna Vik stocks shelves at the pantry. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.
FMC Food Pantry inventory coordinator Hanna Vik stocks shelves at the pantry.

Partnerships with community organizations help stock the pantry shelves, as well as food purchased through grants. In 2023, 1,600 pounds of locally grown produce was donated, double the amount donated in 2022. Great Harvest donated more than 3,200 pounds of bread, and Sprouts donated more than 7,500 pounds of food. Through a new partnership, 3,400 pounds of food has been donated by Safeway on Lemay Avenue in Fort Collins in the first three months of 2024.

Grants helped purchase dairy and non-dairy items, eggs and 18,731 pounds of produce in 2023.

The FMC Food Pantry is open to the community, but many patrons also receive health care through FMC. FMC serves about 175 patients daily, 65% 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 allows clients to choose items they want and it caters to each client’s dietary restrictions, whether for health or personal reasons.

“Large things come from humble beginnings,” Holiday said, adding that she hopes the grow-a-row effort, just like the produce in her garden, flourishes to become an annual force to support the needs of neighbors across the fence.

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.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.