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      Collaborative project could help reduce food insecurity, improve health

      Members of the community gather to discuss the potential of a garden project.

      As part of the effort to reduce food insecurity in our area, the United Way of Wapello County is teaming up with organizations across Ottumwa to create a community garden.

      The project would help to eliminate the so-called "food deserts" in Wapello County, where those who are food insecure and often living in poverty have to travel over a mile to get food. Instead, fresh, healthy food will be accessible to more people who need it. Right now, 14.8% of the population is food insecure and 24% of our children are food insecure, so it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

      The goal is to not just create one garden, but begin a multi-faceted project, teaching and encouraging people to plant vegetables along with their flowers, incorporating projects like Market on Main to provide a venue for selling produce and making use of vacant land with growing potential.

      The United Way held a community meeting to garner feedback and generate interest in the project, and representatives from the Food Bank of Southern Iowa, Seneca Area Agency on Aging, Kohl's, Market on Main were in attendance, as well as citizens just looking to volunteer.

      "We've noticed that there are a lot of people in our community that were already very interested in community gardens and community projects," said Desiree Johnson, President and CEO of the United Way of Wapello County. "So we thought, instead of everybody doing things separately, it'd be a really good idea to get people together, strategize on how they can work together, also how the United Way can be a part of it, how other people can be a part of it, that it really takes all the people in the community to affect change, as the United Way has said, and this is a really good opportunity to do that."

      Johnson said Monday's meeting is just a start and the United Way plans to form committees and groups to keep tabs on what projects are going on throughout Ottumwa and Wapello County, and to build on those efforts.

      If you were not able to make Monday's meeting, but you're interested in being part of the project, you can contact the United Way at 682-1264.

      There will also be a second meeting on Monday, April 15 at 10 a.m. at the United Way offices on Second Street in Ottumwa.