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Ozarks Food Harvest is planting the seeds (literally) to help fight hunger in the area

Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 6:38 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - This warm weather has a lot of people thinking about gardening and the same is true of southwest Missouri’s food bank.

When you think of Ozarks Food Harvest you probably visualize their large warehouse full of prepared food that’s shipped out to food-insecure families in the area.

But if you dig a little deeper you’ll also find seeds and gardening as a part of their efforts to help the hungry.

“We do 23 million meals a year out of this warehouse,” said Alexa Poindexter, the Director of Full Circle Gardens, a part of the Ozarks Food Harvest program. “But there’s also the side of teaching people and allowing them the resources to create some of their own food supply.”

That takes place in two ways starting with volunteers at the warehouse putting together Garden-to-Go kits for people who’d like to start (literally) from the ground-up.

“The kits are going to have seven different vegetables with a mix cool season and warm season crops plus a flower and an herb,” Poindexter said. “It will also contain a planting calendar so people will know when to plant their things. The calendar also has a link to a cookbook that’s designed for folks living on a budget and a link to gardening resources in Missouri.”

Which leads to the second way they’re helping.

It’s a farm in Rogersville which is home to the Ozarks Food Harvest Full Circle Gardens. Donated by a board member, the gardens offer educational opportunities for volunteers and visitors as well as produce that goes into the organization’s food bank.

“Last year there was over 13,600 pounds of food just from this site,” Poindexter said. “That’s with volunteers like school groups, youth groups, college students, retirees and corporate groups helping out. Just anyone who wants to come out here.”

And when school groups visit the gardens, it’s always an enlightening experience.

“It’s cool to watch them realize that they can grow food,” Poindexter explained. “And the kids are great because they say whatever comes into their heads. They’re like, ‘So there’s tomatoes in my pizza?’ or when a kid harvests potatoes and has no idea they were grown underground or realizes that their favorite food is french fries and they can make french fries with potatoes.”

The garden and seed programs are gearing up just as another successful campaign is coming to a close. The Check Out Hunger project had a number of area grocery stores giving shoppers the chance to add $1-$3-$5 tax-free donations to their grocery bill.

It ended up raising $54,000 that was put to good use.

“Through that we were able to distribute 215,000 meals through our 28 county service area,” said Jordan Browning, the Public Information Officer for Ozarks Food Harvest. “And it’s incredibly important because here in southwest Missouri currently 1-in-5 children and 1-in-6 adults are facing hunger. That’s been a significant increase we’ve seen due to the pandemic, the supply chain problems and the increased price of groceries. All of those things are affecting everyone in the community.”

Browning also confirmed that Ozarks Food Harvest is still dealing with supply chain problems just like everybody else.

“We’re still having to order things way ahead of time,” he said. “Pre-pandemic we were able to order things a month-or-two ahead of time. Now we’re doing it six months in advance to make sure none of our pantries have empty shelves. We’re also having to spend much more on food than we previously had to make sure all of our 270 agencies have food.”

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