Highlights of COVID-19 Local Food Programming in McDowell

— Written By

Red van with bucket garden kitsNorth Carolina Cooperative Extension – McDowell County Center has been highly responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic. By partnering with several agencies and organizations, the McDowell County office has addressed issues that arose from the pandemic. Here are some of the highlights focused on local food programming:

What do you do during a pandemic to ensure food security? You grow your own food! 

Bucket Gardens

Bucket garden kits McDowell Local Food Advisory Council with member organizations, North Carolina Cooperative Extension – McDowell County Center and Mission Hospital McDowell, led a Bucket Garden kit effort. The bucket garden kit included one 5-gallon bucket, soil, a tomato transplant, vegetable seeds, and an instruction sheet. Two hundred forty 5-gallon buckets were donated by Spencer’s Ace Hardware with soil donated by Banner Greenhouses. Tomato transplants were donated by Master Gardener℠ volunteers of McDowell County with seeds donated by North Carolina Cooperative Extension – McDowell County Center. A one-page instruction sheet was authored by a Master Gardener℠ volunteer of McDowell County. Bucket garden kits were distributed at schools throughout the county and a childcare center. Forty bucket garden kits were distributed at Centro Unido Latino Americano, a non-profit agency that serves the Latinx community. The youth receiving buckets were encouraged to share the progress of their bucket gardens using social media with #bucketgarden.

kids with bucket garden kits

Victory Gardens

Banner Greenhouses grew and donated 50 Victory Garden starter kits with tomato, pepper, and lettuce transplants. In addition, North Carolina Cooperative Extension – McDowell County Center donated cucumber, squash, and bean seeds. The Victory Garden starter kits included NC State Extension publication Vegetable Gardening – A Beginner’s Guide in English and Spanish, a Mini Garden Project Record Book, and an instruction sheet. As an incentive participants that complete the Mini Garden Project Record Book will be given 10 Market dollars to be spent at the Historic Marion Tailgate Market or MGM Farmer’s Market in Old Fort. The Victory Garden starter kits were distributed at Marion and Eastfield Global Magnet Elementary Schools. 

victory garden transplant sets

How do you support farmers and consumers during an economic downturn? You provide new markets while addressing food insecurity.

The pandemic caused a significant spike in unemployment with loss of income. Many of our neighbors lost their means to purchase food. Our farmers lost markets with the closing of restaurants and other large purchasers of food.

Foothills Food Hub Community Supported Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture Produce BoxNorth Carolina Cooperative Extension – McDowell County Center coordinated the Foothills Food Hub Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Fifty families were identified by community partners to receive a box of fresh, local food valued at $20 to $25 for 6 weeks. Food was procured using 11 local farmers. Recipes, provided by Janet Bryan, EFNEP Educator, were included in each box along with information on the Historic Marion Tailgate Market and their SNAP/EBT Fresh Bucks program.

In addition to the CSA, additional local food purchases occurred for food distribution at different sites throughout the community. Both of these programs were supported through grant funding. Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project Appalachian Farmers Feeding Families also provided monetary support to buy produce from local farmers to be distributed to families in need.

Food security is an issue for all of us, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought that issue to the forefront of consumers’ minds. North Carolina Cooperative Extension – McDowell County Center with strong community relationships had the expertise and educational resources to address local food security and agriculture economy issues that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

CSA boxes in a delivery truck