Nasrin Nawa | Nebraska Extension
The Growing Together Multi-State Collaborative, a regional food and nutrition program whose partners include Nebraska Extension, has received a national award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture saluted the initiative with the National Extension Excellence Team Award.
The award recognizes exceptional performance in Extension research, technical assistance, and outreach education. Nebraska Extension has proudly contributed to this groundbreaking initiative since 2016.
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced the Extension Excellence and Diversity Awards recipients in partnership with Cooperative Extension and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
The awards ceremony is scheduled for November at the association’s annual meeting, an event that the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Cooperative Extension have jointly sponsored since 1991.
The Growing Together Multi-State Collaboration, established to enhance access to fresh produce at food distribution sites, also provides vital nutrition and gardening education to individuals dealing with food insecurity across the North Central United States.
“In the past three years alone, this collaborative effort has contributed 600,000 pounds, equivalent to 1.8 million servings of fresh fruits and vegetables to 878 food distribution sites, serving about 375,000 clients,” organizers said.
Initially launched with cooperation from Cooperative Extension Services at Iowa State University, University of Wisconsin, and Purdue University, the initiative has expanded to involve nine states. Partner institutions now include the University of Nebraska, Michigan State University, Montana State University, South Dakota State University, University of Illinois, and the University of Wyoming.
Through the Growing Together Nebraska program, Nebraska Extension has played a substantial role in this endeavor, supplying more than 212,000 pounds of produce — equal to more than 631,930 servings of fruits and vegetables —across the state since 2016.
Established in 2016, Growing Together Nebraska is a SNAP-Ed-funded donation garden project to enhance food security and promote access to healthy foods for families and individuals experiencing food insecurity. The project actively engages Extension Master Gardeners Volunteers, local community organizations, and volunteers in building and managing donation gardens, thereby improving access to affordable, nutritious, and safe foods.
Natalie Sehi, Extension educator and a lead member of Growing Together, emphasized the project’s broader impact, stating, “With the rising cost of food, it’s not just about having access; it’s also about learning how to prepare, store, and savor fresh produce. As an integral component of the University of Nebraska Extension’s Supplemental Nutrition Education Program-Education, this initiative offers crucial nutrition and gardening education to enhance the nutritional well-being of individuals and families statewide.”
“This project exemplifies a successful collaboration between the Nebraska Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program and the SNAP-Ed/Food, Nutrition, and Health program. Along with enhancing food security in our communities, the GTN program has allowed us to create a robust people-plant connection by teaching the importance of eating nutritionally healthy food and how to grow it,” said Terri James, extension educator.