Despite the cold front that chills Albany County, garden growers are stepping up to participate in First Lady Jennie Gordon’s “Grow a Little Extra” Wyoming Hunger Initiative program. In collaboration with the University of Wyoming Extension Master Gardener program and Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP), Grow a Little Extra will provide fresh, homegrown produce to low-income families across all 23 counties in Wyoming.
Jess Dooley is the CNP educator in Albany County and said in a phone briefing that she is excited and energized to get Laramie residents involved.
It’s still a little early in the season to start planting outdoors, Dooley said, and the program itself is very new, but this hasn’t deterred her from getting a head start on marketing the philanthropic opportunity to the community in any way she can.
Dooley has contacted several local growers encouraging them to participate, including the Laramie Gardening Club — a volunteer-based organization of new and experienced gardeners — and residential growers. She’s even created posters and flyers advertising the new initiative.
“I think we can help a lot of people,” Dooley said.
To help motivate herself and others who plan to participate in Grow a Little Extra, Dooley has made it a personal goal for Albany County to grow the most produce this growing season.
“It’s not a competition by any means, but it’d be really cool if Albany [County] stepped up and helped out in the program,” she said.
UW Extension has locations in every county and each hub has received 25 seed packets to be distributed among its residents, said Gordon. Already, Laramie growers and the Downtown Clinic have picked up packets, which include seeds for green beans, spinach, broccoli, carrots, cabbage and winter squash.
GROW A ROWFeeding Laramie Valley has a similar community initiative program called Grow a Row. It was adopted in late summer 2020 to help combat food insecurity among Laramie residents a midst a spreading pandemic. Much like Grow a Little Extra, Grow a Row asks local gardeners to dedicate a section, plot or row of their home gardens for the program and donate the harvest, according to the program website.
“We wanted to find local gardeners in town … (to help) bring harvested fruits and veggies into a shared program,” said Candace Teems, program coordinator for Feeding Laramie Valley.
Teems said although they only just heard the news about Gordon’s push for food security and have not yet been approached by CNP or any other food security Extension program , Feeding Laramie Valley anticipates collaborating with CNP.
“Our whole mission and philosophy is working together,” Teems said.
She added Laramie Valley is always open to collaborating with those who have similar goals to create sustainable food systems for communities, including Gordon.
“We have always supported our First Lady and Cent$ible,” Teems said.
ABOUT WYO HUNGER INITIATIVE
Gordon said that although she and her nine siblings never went hungry growing up, her parents were both raised in poverty and instilled in each of them gratitude for the provisions they have, particularly food. Additionally, Gordon learned to give back if an opportunity presents itself.
“[I’ve] had that in the back of my mind,” Gordon said.
When her husband was elected as governor, Gordon was approached by several people asking what projects she planned to work on.
“I knew I wanted to work on hunger in our state, particularly for children,” she said and in October of 2019, Wyoming Hunger Initiative was founded.
Grow a Little Extra works through the Wyoming Hunger Initiative platform which provides grants to organizations that wish to expand existing community garden spaces or other infrastructures to grow produce specifically for sharing with families and organizations in need. Gordon disclosed that 23 grants up to $500 have already been awarded.
Through the Wyoming Hunger Initiative platform, Grow a Little Extra grants are available o organizations that wish to build or expand pre-existing community garden centers specifically for the purposes of growing produce for families in need.
The Cent$ible Nutrition Program teaches families and individuals with limited resources about cooking, nutrition and health conscious living habits. In addition to free classes, they partner with the community to work on projects at gardens, food pantries and schools.
For more information about the Wyoming Hunger Initiative Grow a Little Extra project, visit https://www.nohungerwyo.org/our-programs . For more information about CNP, visit https://uwyocnp.org/. To pick up seed packets as available, visit the UW Extension office at 3520 S. Third St.
HUNGER IN WYOMING
According to data found on its official website, approximately 71,000 Wyomingites struggle with food insecurity; approximately 23,000 are children. Put another way, nearly 1 in 5 children experience food disparity. Wyoming Hunger Initiative’s mission is to end child hunger and create sustainable food access through education, awareness and support by local anti-hunger organizations statewide.