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Extension’s Growing Together Illinois program honored as part of national team award

fresh vegetables in baskets

URBANA, Ill. — Recognizing visionary leadership and diversity in educational programming, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Cooperative Extension, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities presented awards at the recent APLU Annual Meeting, which USDA-NIFA and Cooperative Extension have sponsored since 1991.

“Each year, these awards showcase the fundamental, transformative difference Cooperative Extension continues to make in our society,” says NIFA Director Manjit Misra. “This important partnership and excellent programs like these are a testament to the true value of Cooperative Extension capacity funds more than a century after the Smith-Lever Act created this unparalleled system of outreach and education that enriches every community across the nation.”

The National Excellence in Extension Team Award was presented to the Growing Together Multi-State Collaborative of which University of Illinois Extension’s Growing Together Illinois program is a part, led by the Illinois SNAP-Ed leadership team.

National Excellence in Extension Team Award

The award recognizes the excellence of an Extension team in performing the work of Extension research, technical assistance, and outreach education. The Growing Together Multi-State Collaboration was established to expand access to fresh produce at food distribution sites. It also offers companion nutrition and gardening education to those experiencing nutrition insecurity throughout the North Central United States. Over the past three years, the multi-state collaborative has donated over 600,000 pounds, equivalent to 1.8 million servings of fruits and vegetables, to 878 food distribution sites serving 375,000 clients.

The initiative’s original cooperating state Cooperative Extension Services were based at Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin, and Purdue University. The program has expanded to include nine states with the help of the following participating institutions: Michigan State University, Montana State University, South Dakota State University, University of Illinois, University of Nebraska, and the University of Wyoming.

Growing Together Illinois

Growing Together Illinois began in 2017. It is a multi-disciplinary program focused on increasing access to fruits and vegetables in identified Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education networks to help food-insecure families. The Illinois program administered by Illinois Extension’s SNAP-Ed team, works in partnership with Extension’s Illinois Master Gardener and Illinois 4-H youth programs. Through this collaboration, SNAP-Ed funds are provided to build or expand food donation gardens.

Food pantries provide much-needed relief for food-insecure individuals and families, but pantries often rely on donations of canned and packaged foods with limited nutritional value. Growing Together Illinois aims to provide fresh produce to food pantry clientele across the state.

“The program donates fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to the pantries. The overall goal is improved food access, but we also provide nutrition education and other support,” says Trinity Allison, SNAP-Ed senior program lead.

Produce is grown in community gardens run by volunteers with assistance from Master Gardeners and 4-H Clubs, who bring knowledge and expertise on planning, planting, maintaining, and harvesting. SNAP-Ed staff assists pantries with handling and promoting the produce and provides education on usage, recipes, and suggestions for bundling with other meal items.

About NIFA: The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) provides leadership and funding for programs that advance agriculture-related sciences. We invest in and support initiatives that ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA applies an integrated approach to ensure that groundbreaking discoveries in agriculture-related sciences and technologies reach the people who can put them into practice.

About APLU: APLU is a membership organization that fosters a community of university leaders collectively working to advance the mission of public research universities. The association’s membership consists of more than 250 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations spanning across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, Canada, and Mexico. Annually, its 210 U.S. member campuses enroll 4.5 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.3 million degrees, employ 1.2 million faculty and staff, and conduct $48.5 billion in university-based research.

About CES: The Cooperative Extension System (CES), in partnership with NIFA and APLU, is translating research into action: bringing cutting-edge discoveries from research laboratories to those who can put knowledge into practice. CES empowers farmers, ranchers, and communities to meet their challenges, adapt to changing technology, improve nutrition and food safety, prepare for and respond to emergencies, and protect our environment.  Extension operates through the nationwide land-grant university system and is the unique cooperative of federal government, state, and local governments.

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.