Food security is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as not always having access to foods that promote a healthful and active lifestyle. It affected more than 10.6%, or 331,000, Iowans annually between 2013 and 2015 (USDA, 2017). Food insecurity is most prevalent in rural areas compared both to urban and suburban areas of the country (USDA, 2017). Decreasing the prevalence of food insecurity is a paramount issue for Iowans (Garasky et al., 2004). One way for community members to engage with food-security projects is by participating in a produce-donation project, such as Plant a Row for the Hungry (Garden Writers Association, 2018).
In addition to physically gardening as a means of increasing awareness of food security, field days have been shown to increase the dissemination of information, as well as elicit adoption of new strategies or practices after the field days conclude (Diehl et al., 2012; Miller et al., 2016). The purpose of field days is to showcase or demonstrate specific practices to attendees (Shepard, 2001). Across the United States, those who participate in field days have identified as predominately male, moderately wealthy, from rural locations, and over age 45 years (Comito et al., 2018; Diehl et al., 2012; Miller et al., 2016).
A pilot partnership between the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education (SNAP-Ed) and the Iowa Master Gardener (IMG) program was created to address hunger in Iowa by increasing access to fresh produce by those who are food insecure. One aspect of the SNAP-ED and IMG research project partnership focused on donation gardening and how this partnership can increase awareness of food security in Iowa.
The Iowa State University Research and Demonstration Farms were the host sites for 12 Home Demonstration Garden field days in 2016 and 2017. The HDGs were started in 1977 and have focused on showcasing new cultivars of edible and ornamental crops. Annually, more than 300 community members attend these field days in Iowa. The theme of the 2016 and 2017 HDGs was food pantry donation gardening, and as a result, the gardens were planted with cultivars of common vegetables and fruits that were specifically requested by Iowa food pantries (C. Hradek, personal communication).
No data previously existed on the change in knowledge or demographics of the HDG field day attendees. The objectives of this study were to identify the demographics of field-day attendees and their change in knowledge and in comfort discussing food security with those who are food insecure. This information allows for field-day coordinators to better tailor their promotion of field days and increase food-security promoting projects in Iowa.
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