116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Older Americans are at risk of not having adequate access to fresh produce because of factors including cost, not having a car and wanting to stay in their neighborhood, according to a 2016 study.
The Iowa City Senior Center is trying to increase access to fresh vegetables and fruit from a Give Back Garden staffed this summer by volunteers. Free produce, including tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, zucchini and cabbage, is available now at the Senior Center in downtown Iowa City.
“We decided to choose what would be easiest for people to cook with,” said Michelle Buhman, program specialist at the center. And “plants that gave us the most bounty.”
Buhman secured a 10x20 garden plot in Chadek Green Park on Iowa City’s east side and put out the word she was looking for volunteer gardeners for the summer. She got 16 people who wanted to help plant, weed and water the garden over the summer months — which has been a challenge with prolonged dry spells.
“We’ve had a couple of different get-togethers to make it more of a social volunteer experience during a time when it seemed like you could be safe outside,” Buhman said.
It was this social component that spurred Regina Girazian, 66, of Iowa City, to volunteer.
Girazian moved to Iowa City in late 2019 after retiring as a school secretary in Clovis, Cal. She wanted to be near her son and his family, including grandchildren Jack, 5, and June, 3. But then COVID hit and Girazian found herself isolated in a new place without having time to develop a friend group.
“It’s hard at our age to meet people,” she said. “I’m happy this opened up to give me something to do. It makes me feel good to provide food for seniors because vegetables are expensive. Food is expensive.”
The Farmers Market Nutrition Program provides low-income seniors with $30 worth of checks to buy produce from farmers market vendors.
“Thirty dollars is not as much as it was when we first started doing the program,” Buhman said. The Give Back Garden offers free produce to add to the shelf-stable foods seniors can get year-round at the center.
Girazian signed up to weed and water in the Give Back Garden, where she goes about once a week. Last week, June helped her water the plants and marveled at a fire engine red tomato she had to hold with both hands.
The Give Back Garden is nestled in between other plots available for rent in Iowa City. The patchwork of plots includes vegetables and ornamental plants, such as zinnias and sunflowers. This season, all the city’s garden plots were sold out at Chadek Green, Wetherby Park, Kiwanis Park and the Reno Street Park.
Girazian is glad for the opportunity to get out and contribute to her new community.
“I’m a novice,” she said of gardening. “But who doesn’t know how to water? Who doesn’t know how to weed? It’s not hard.”
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