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Cass County produce sharing program 'Grow Another Row' taking root

Local gardeners and growers find a unique way to tackle food insecurity and build community relationships.

CASS COUNTY, Iowa — It's been said that if you want to change the world, start close to home; and that's precisely what's happening in Cass County with a produce-sharing program called "Grow Another Row." 

The idea quickly grew roots and took off. 

"People don't know what to do when it's free," said Barb Fischer with Grow Another Row. "They'll say, 'I have some money, but there isn't a jar.' And I'll say, 'I don't want your money.'" 

Barb oversees the produce donation stand in Marne. There are several other drop-off locations all around Cass County with the simple mission: take what you need and leave what you can. 

This idea started at the beginning of the pandemic. A group of local growers recognized a need in Cass County for fresh produce. So they teamed up with Healthy Cass County and encouraged anyone planting a garden in the spring to grow a little more and donate the extra.

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Cass County Wellness Coordinator Brigham Hoegh said, "It worked so well in the first year. Gave people something meaningful, outdoors. Really helped people. So at the end of last year, we asked if we should keep doing this and the resounding answer was yes."

At the end of the second season, they estimate they've served close to 400 people. And through the bushels of cucumbers and tomatoes, some real bonds have grown. 

Grower Ardyth Gillespie said, "This program has been especially good in how we run it because we have one on one contact with a lot of people involved. That builds relationships which goes into a lot of different areas of [the] community. Like here in Marne. People work really well together and that's different perspectives and all. But when it is time to help each other, they do it."

It was a grassroots effort. No grants, no funding. Just a basic need with an obvious solution. The program has indeed grown and evolved, but the people involved remain clear on the goal.

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"I just know it's good healthy food, grown by honest hardworking people. And it's going to very needy people. It just feels good." said Barb.

And this year, the program was able to donate plants to people they served, so they could participate in growing. Brigham Hoegh with Healthy Cass County says this program can easily be replicated anywhere, and there is always a need for fresh produce.

You can find more information on Grow Another Row here.

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