MU Extension Master Gardeners volunteer efforts feed the hungry

Woman watering a garden

They say it takes a village to raise a child. A village of University of Missouri Extension Master Gardener volunteers grow gardens to help feed the hungry and homeless across the state.

Last year, volunteers for the Laura Miller George Help Center of Mexico, Mo., gardened and grew for the local food pantry and the homeless people who lived in a nearby wooded area. A USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service grant helped make the 3-acre garden and greenhouses possible.

Along with the NRCS grant came strong community support. Local FFA students raised plants in a greenhouse. Callaway Fields garden center and Orscheln Farm & Home donated plants and seed. Master Gardeners sorted bulk seed into smaller packets to give to families at the food bank and to plant in the community garden.

Students from the area technical school built eight wheelchair-accessible raised beds. “The raised beds give gardeners with back and knee problems the opportunity to garden long after their backs and knees have worn out,” says Jan Kendall, who served as garden coordinator last year.

MU Extension nutrition program associates Jolene Rodgers and Sarah Geist, Help Center and Career Center volunteers, local church members, and MU Extension Master Gardeners donated an abundance of tomatoes, okra, peppers, green beans and mustard greens to the Help Center’s food pantry.

In Kansas City, Master Gardeners provide horticulture and volunteer services at an urban garden at 18th Street and Broadway. The garden began in 2010 as an urban sustainability project of DST Systems, an information technology services company based in Kansas City. Greater Kansas City Master Gardeners manage the top level of garden beds. They grow flowers, vegetables and herbs to donate to the Harvesters Community Food Network for distribution to area food banks.

Volunteer teams from nearby engineering and architectural firms, banks, and medical centers adopted the remaining 81 gardens, says Cathy Bylinowski, MU Extension horticulture educator in Blue Springs. She guides the garden efforts of volunteers from seed to harvest.

Garden produce adds flavor and nutrition to meals. It also helps food stamp dollars go farther. Just as important, volunteers help build community connections by bringing food pantry clients together with local volunteers, says Bill McKelvey, project coordinator of MU’s Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security.

During National Volunteer Week, April 7-13, the motto is “shining a light on the people and causes that inspire us to serve.”

MU Extension horticulturist David Trinklein says, “I can think of few applications of the Master Gardener program more beneficial than assisting those in need to grow their own food.”

Trinklein says that in 2018, Missouri’s 53 Master Gardener chapters reported 164,788 volunteer hours valued at $3.98 million as they fulfilled the program’s mission of “helping others learn to grow.”

To learn more about National Volunteer Week, go to Learn more about the Missouri Master Gardener program at