The Iowa State University Seed Science Center (SSC) worked with Ames Main Street and the Nevada FFA to provide a supervised ag experience for one student, which led to a big donation to a local food pantry.


The SSC provided guidance and a staff member, Cindy Hicks, to help Nevada freshman FFA student, Shieann Flores, with her project. Flores planted spinach seed in early April, in 25 downtown planters. The planters are usually overflowing with flowers during the summer, but in the spring they are bare.


“There are so many people who go without good healthy food in Ames,” Flores said. “It is great that we could use the empty planters in downtown to grow fresh vegetables for those who need it.”


On Wednesday, May 15, Flores picked over 50 pounds of spinach, donated most to Food at First and gave away around five pounds to people on the street.


“While we were picking spinach, several people came up and asked what we were doing,” Flores said. “We told them about edible landscaping and gave them fresh-picked spinach to take home with them.”


Patty Yoder, executive director for Food at First, said her organization feeds a hot meal to 100 people every day, and provides groceries for around 300 families a week. The spinach harvested this week will be used for both purposes.


“Those looking for help are all in different situations, whether it be homelessness, income challenges, health challenges or in between jobs,” said Yoder. “There are a lot of reasons people need food help.”


According to United Way, Story County has the highest percentage of food insecurity in the state at over 15 percent. Yoder said she sees this every day, and while Ames had a huge homeless population, many who come through the pantry are employed.


“These folks may have jobs, but are just barely making it,” Yoder said. “They are using their money for their rent and utilities and don’t have anything left for food.”


This is the second year Hicks, who does communications and marketing for the SSC, has been involved in this type of project in downtown Ames. Last year she led a project to plant sweet potatoes in the downtown planters, which yielded over 200 pounds of produce for Food at First. Sweet potatoes will be planted again, now that the spinach is harvested.


“I am glad I could be a part of helping Shieann with this project, which in turn helped many people,” Hicks said.