- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - An eastern Iowa group has started planting produce on a 2-acre plot of land in hopes of growing about 20,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables for local food pantries.

Four organizers have already planted the first seeds of the Grow: Johnson County initiative, an effort that aims to bring fresh food to some of the county’s neediest people, the Iowa City Press-Citizen (http://icp-c.com/1TLq7G6 ) reported.

The project’s leaders all have backgrounds in either farming or food services, and they hope to recruit volunteers to the land to help plant and care for the crops, which will include melons, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, sweet corn and other things.

John Boller, the initiative’s leader and the director of the Coralville Ecumenical Food Pantry, said he hopes to bring in a variety of volunteers, from aspiring farmers to inexperienced gardeners.

“It’s been a collaborative effort since the beginning,” Boller said.

County leaders picked Grow: Johnson County’s proposal from several other models to make use of the 160-year-old farm just west of Iowa City, which originally housed low-income and mentally ill people. Organizers will rent the land for just $1 a year, and Rod Sullivan, the chairman of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, said there is potential for future expansion because more land is on hold.

The group will be communicating with a handful of pantries across the county to tailor donations to their needs.

Sarah Benson Witry, with the Johnson County Crisis Center food bank, said the project will help provide foods that people actually want to eat.

“We know from surveying our clients and talking to them that, consistently, they tell us fruits and vegetables are the most important foods - particularly fresh fruits and vegetables - for them to see in our pantry,” she said.

The center already receives donated produce and purchases food from local farmers, but the initiative’s donations will help increase their variety and abundance of fresh foods, she said.

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/

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