Just Food Partnership Announcement

On March 15, student gardeners at West Middle School planted potatoes, onions, lettuce, and cabbage with a greater purpose to their work: helping ensure families in need have healthy food in Lawrence. Through a new partnership, Just Food, the food bank for Lawrence and Douglas County, will visit the garden three times a week throughout the growing season to pick up the freshly harvested produce to add to the shelves of the food bank.

Just Food’s pantry is open Tuesday through Friday, 9am-1pm and 2pm-6pm at 1000 E. 11th St in Lawrence.  According to Elizabeth Keever, Executive Director, Just Food served nearly 13,000 individuals in 2017 and distributed over 200,000 lbs. of fresh produce to families. All with the goal of making a positive impact on our community and improving it’s overall health.

Nancy O’Connor is Executive Director of Community Mercantile Education Foundation (CMEF), the non-profit that runs the Growing Food, Growing Health program at West Middle School to oversee its garden. O’Connor anticipates they will harvest 2,000 pounds of produce from May to November to be donated to Just Food.

 “After years of growing our garden program we felt it was time to reach out farther to more people in our community and turn our garden work into service” says O’Connor about the decision to donate all produce to Just Food. “We want to be an example of what youth can do to help improve the health of our community.”

 Since 2010, the garden at West Middle School has inspired a larger garden movement across Lawrence schools. Thanks to financial support from The Merc Co+op and Mainstreet Credit Union, and under the leadership of O’Connor, eight student gardeners were hired this year to work in the beautiful and productive growing space just off Crestline. 

 The produce harvested previously made its way to the school cafeteria for sampling, or into the co-op produce and deli departments under a Growing Food, Growing Health sticker. Student gardeners, who not only grow but also participate in education and outreach about fresh, locally grown produce, are excited for the Just Food partnership.

 “Working in the garden that will provide food to Just Food is a way to directly help my community” says Student Garden Assistant Ruby McLendon. “The food we grow goes straight to people in need. That is really exciting to me.” Ruby is now in her third season of working with the Growing Food Growing Health project and is a sophomore at Free State High School.

 In addition to the Growing Food, Growing Health program at West Middles School, last year CMEF launched a garden collaboration with DCCCA, establishing the Growing Food, Growing Hope garden at First Step at Lake View. For those interested in learning more about the work of the CMEF, visit The Merc during the month of May when it will be the Change Recipient. Learn more by checking out the article in the Lawrence Journal World!

Laura Marsh