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Illinois gardeners credited for adding produce to food banks

Illinois Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Products Farmers’ Market and Community Garden Members were recognized Oct. 7 in Springfield at a dinner hosted by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
The dinner served as a big thank-you to these organizations that donated so much over the past year and helped make a dent in hunger in Illinois.

“I am thrilled, although a bit surprised, at the success of the community garden and the farmers’ market,” Agriculture Director Tom Jennings said. “Participation in both projects has exceeded our expectations. We will take what we have learned this year and try to improve them next year.”

The program allowed growers to donate part of their crop to the Central Illinois Food Bank. Pam Molitoris, director, said, “We are so thankful for all of the donations we received from this group. The families who come through our doors appreciate the generous donations of the local community, but fresh produce is an unbelievable gift that all of the families were grateful to have.”
Kristi Gillmore, manager of Food Resources at the food bank, said it has been working with the Sangamon County extension and Master Gardner Program for several years. “They do a really great job,” she added.

She shared a story about a group of youngsters a couple of years ago who were given a choice of chips or an apple. Most children chose an apple because they said they always had chips, but often could not afford the fruit.

Several groups made this project a success. A total of 121 plots were planted by 84 gardeners, many of whom donated to the “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program. Besides the Master Gardeners, several individual gardeners also donated a row as well.
Gillmore explained how the program works: “We distribute directly to food pantries. We distribute to 170 organizations in 21 counties of the state.”

This food bank is one of eight in the state. “We are all part of Feeding Illinois, an association that works together. We all belong to Feeding America and there are 203 food banks across the country, and together we furnish every county in the country,” Gillmore explained.

Because produce is expensive and difficult for the food bank and its agencies to obtain, they have been dependent on the Plant-A-Row volunteers to provide fresh fruits and vegetables. Plant-A-Row volunteers donated approximately 55,000 pounds of produce throughout the 2009 growing season.

The next step is learning the best ways to use produce and how to eat healthy. Glenda Johnson of the Sangamon County extension office said, “The first place I send people is to (online).”

MyPyramid offers personalized eating plans and interactive tools to help assess food choices. It bases these plans on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Johnson added, “It has some interactive-type items that go by age and activity, then offers some recommendations. It is one of the quickest and easiest ways to learn.”

Another site she said offers good nutrition information is where individuals and families are encouraged to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. “It is very accessible and user-friendly,” she said.

Although the farmers’ market has come to an end until next May, assistance can still be provided through and to the food banks located throughout the state and the country.