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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Grow & Give: How backyard gardeners can help seniors

Apr 04, 2023 03:27PM ● By Colleen M. Story

The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. Yet food insecurity is still an issue in Western Colorado. 

This means now is the best time ever to start your own garden—and donate some of the extra produce to those who need it!

“Our food pantries are serving record high numbers,” said Amanda McQuade, Community Food Systems Coordinator with Colorado State University (CSU) Western Colorado Research Center. 

According to Food Bank of the Rockies’ 2022 report, soaring inflation has driven up the cost of basic necessities, forcing more people to seek food assistance. 

“Part of it is inflation,” McQuade agreed, “part of it is that for some people their wages haven’t ever really bounced back up or haven’t increased. And then the other part of it is that SNAP benefits are going down to pre-pandemic levels.”

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) emergency allotments came to an end in February. The temporary benefits, which were put into place during the pandemic, ended with the Consolidated Appropriations Act recently passed by Congress. As of March 2023, all SNAP households’ benefits returned to normal amounts—which today, often falls short of what is needed to feed hungry families.

All this is going to make people lean in more heavily to food pantries. 

Sue Ellen Rodwick, Food Bank of the Rockies' Western Slope Director, said the new mobile pantry at the Mesa County Fairgrounds attracted 170 households—most of whom hadn't visited a food pantry before.

“When you have a cash crunch, you reduce your grocery budget,” McQuade said. 

Seniors can make a difference. According to Mollie Freilicher, Horticulture & Natural Resources Area Specialist for the CSU Extension Tri-River Area, gardeners of all ages and abilities are badly needed to join the Grow & Give program. 

“We have a lot of people who can grow more food than they need,” Freilicher said. “So having a program that can connect them with organizations or even neighbors who need food is especially important.” 

What Is Grow & Give?

A modern version of the victory gardens that were popular during World War II, the local Grow & Give program took off in 2020 during the pandemic. Many people turned to gardening that year, and the CSU Extension staff wanted to connect growing and giving resources for Coloradans. 

“There was a huge concern about food security,” McQuade said. 

As they had already developed educational programs around food and health (including the Master Gardener program), it was a natural step to move into local gardening and donation.

Grow & Give connects backyard and community gardens to food donation sites around the state, helping local gardeners gain access to those organizations that are thrilled to get fresh produce. Last year, the program inspired over 32,000 pounds of donated food across the state. More than 800 pounds were donated in Mesa County alone.

One of the nice things about Grow & Give is that anyone can get involved. There is no minimum donation amount, and with every donation you register, you help tell the story of what a difference the program is making locally.  

“Anybody can participate,” said Freilicher. “You don’t have to have ever gardened before, and you don’t have to have a huge garden.” 

Analissa Flores Sarno, a Colorado Master Gardener in Mesa County, joined the program in 2020 while she was completing her Ph.D. in microbiology. Since she started with the Grow & Give program, she’s donated different varieties of peppers, tomatoes and flower bouquets. 

“Being able to share with those who do not have time or space for a garden and provide them with local, fresh, sustainable produce is very rewarding,” said Sarno. 

Especially when people are willing to try a new veggie or variety for the first time. 

McQuade agreed. “When people see that somebody has cared enough to share their heirloom tomatoes, it just makes people feel good. The food pantry is proud to give it. The people are proud to get it. It’s a real double win.” 

Get Involved

Grow & Give provides helpful guidelines as to what types of produce work best for donations. For growers who may not have any experience with food pantries, McQuade assures them they don’t need to worry about the red tape. 

“The liability is held with the food pantry,” she said. “It doesn’t go on to the giver.” 

Signing up is a quick process. From, click “Join Us!” and fill out the form. If you don’t have access to a computer, call 970-244-1834 to sign up. 

The Grow & Give website is filled with tips on general gardening, growing veggies and fruit, dealing with weeds and insects, and more. 

“Many of my mistakes were remedied or avoided by referencing the gardening materials…saving me time and money,” Sarno said.

Those who register get the added benefit of an email newsletter throughout the gardening season. It includes helpful gardening information and resources and notifies members of upcoming webinars and classes. A new opt-in program will provide emailed updates to members showing the amount of their donations. Members can then use that information as a way to keep track of their garden’s productivity.

Gardeners can even ask for a master gardener’s help. 

“We’re always looking for more people to participate because it’s helping a need in the community but it’s also giving people an outlet for donating something they might otherwise not,” said Freilicher.

Donation sites are abundant throughout Mesa, Montrose and Delta counties. Call your local extension office for more information or see the map at 

Grand Junction Area Extension - 970-244-1834

Delta Extension Office - 970-874-2195

Montrose Extension Office - 970-249-3935

If you're struggling with food insecurity...

Contact Food Bank of the Rockies about their EverGreen box program for low-income adults 60+. Call 970-464-1138.