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Have you ever had a seemingly good idea that really did not turn out as planned? I know that I have had a few over the course of my Extension career. Today I wanted to share a good idea that went the other way and has turned out to be fantastic, the Partners in Produce project.

My University of Illinois Extension colleague Mary Beth Massey had the idea to partner with the Arthur Produce Auction to deliver donated fresh produce to food pantries in the counties we serve in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties. The Arthur Produce Auction is owned by the Amish community in Arthur and is managed by Sheldon Raber. Locally grown produce is sold every Tuesday and Friday morning. In past years when there has been more produce for sale than buyers needed, the Produce Auction has purchased it and donated it to local food pantries.

This summer, Mary Beth and Susan Stollard, both SNAP-Ed Extension staff set up a donation table at the auction. The idea being that growers could donate vegetables. Additionally, buyers purchasing more than they really needed could also donate to the project. Sounds like a good idea, right?

The growing season got started slowly this year with planting delays because of excessive rain, so produce brought to the Auction for sale also was slow in starting. In the beginning of the season, Mary Beth and Susan were excited and grateful when they received 30 to 50 pounds of donated vegetables and fruits. They were equally excited to deliver the fresh produce to local food pantries.

As the growing season progressed, so did the donations, with these two staff members loading 400 to 600 pounds of produce for delivery to food pantries at each bi-weekly auction. Growers began regularly donating produce, and buyers were purchasing produce specifically for the Partners in Produce project.

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The good idea has turned out to be a fantastic partnership. Are you wondering how many pounds of produce has been donated and delivered this summer? To date more than 13,600 pounds of produce! The project has delivered fresh produce to 21 food pantries in our five county area.

Other partnerships have emerged during the summer. For example, produce has been shared with food ministries outside our Unit in Decatur and in return, food has been shared from these ministries to the food pantries in our Extension Unit.

This project has been exciting to watch unfold and so beneficial, assisting residents that are in need of food. If you have questions about this project, or are interested in donating, call Mary Beth Massey in the Extension office located in Shelbyville at 774-9546.

For more information on University of Illinois Extension programming in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties, visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/index.html or call us at (217)345-7034. The University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. If you need reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, please contact the extension office at (217)-345-7034.

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