The Ottumwa Courier

March 26, 2014

Growing food knowledge

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — When you grow some of your own food, the ups and downs of grocery prices don't hurt so much.

"You can go to the store and buy a tomato for a dollar, or you can buy a whole packet of seeds for less than that," said Jennifer Daugherty.

Daugherty is the new horticulturist at ISU Extension service in Wapello County, a position she acknowledges not everyone is familiar with.

"We'd like to get the word out on the services we offer. We focus on small-scale gardening," she said Wednesday at the Extension office on East Main Street. "Home gardens, community gardens."

Living in the heartland, she said, Ottumwans generally benefit from good growing soil. But besides encouraging hungry people to have a tomato plant instead of a tomato, the office is able to examine evidence of trouble. If an insect appears to be eating away at a piece of produce or if a homeowner worries about borers in their ash tree, bring the evidence to ISU Extension.

Prior to coming to the ISU Extension, Daugherty served in the Peace Corps and worked in South Africa.

"It was an extremely food-insecure region on the edge of the Kalahari Desert," Daugherty said.

By the time she left a couple years later, the people in her district were beginning to "implement improved practices" for growing their own food.

Of course, Ottumwa isn't on the edge of a desert, right?

"There are a lot of families in Wapello County that are food insecure," Daugherty said. "One in five children."

The schools do a lot to help. But when school is out, parents could benefit from a supplementary source of food. They may even get some help from their children. Daugherty is involved with the learning garden located at Pioneer Ridge Nature Area. During annual field trips, third-grade students see what food looks like directly from the earth, something even their parents may not know.

That's why horticulturists also work with consumers on what to do with fresh produce. Even a familiar vegetable, Daugherty said, can be mysterious because "it looks different in the garden than it does in the store."

A new summer workshop for the family, Garden Bites, could help.

"We'll have the 'food' already grown, explain how we grew it, how to know when it's ready to pick and how to cook it," she said.

That will be at the garden at Pioneer Ridge, which is getting a face lift. The Junior Master Gardeners, an Extension program, will be laying out the learning garden. Though it's not a large group of kids (this one runs from about fourth grade to eighth grade), more youngsters are welcome, Daugherty said.

Though connected to 4-H, the youth group is based upon the idea of Master Gardners. And ISU Extension facilitates that group, too.

"Master Gardeners meets once a month at Indian Hills, and they welcome anyone, expert or novice," she said.

For more information, stop by the Wapello County Extension office, call them or attend one of their upcoming events.

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark