Iowa Teen Grew 7,000 Pounds of Vegetables, Then Donated Them
Lauren Schroeder from Dixon, Iowa was volunteering at a food nonprofit in her community, helping to fill bags at 14. As she filled the bags, she noticed that none of the bags she was filling had any fresh vegetables - only canned and boxed goods.
“I thought it would be great to change that,” Lauren, now 17, told Washington Post. “I wanted people to get the nutrition they needed from fresh vegetables.”
She told her parents she wanted to start a garden on some of their farm's acreage in Dixon, so she could supply families in need with homegrown produce.
So, she planted lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and zucchini.
The Schroeders plant soybeans and corn on their 150-acre farm, but Lauren knew they had some extra room. Her mom was proud of her for coming up with the idea, so she supported her.
“But I also had a little bit of the devil’s advocate on my shoulder, wondering, ‘Oh my gosh, how much work is this going to be?’” Katie Schroeder told Washington Post.
While she does have 4-H experience and belonged to the FFA club, raising rabbits and lambs, she never had tried planting a large-scale crop of vegetables.
“I did a lot of research online to find out what worked and what didn’t, what plants needed shade, which ones needed more water and when the best time was to harvest each crop,” she said.
Lauren was able to secure a grant from the National FFA Organization to pay for seeds and supplies. In the spring of 2022, Lauren started with half-an-acre of vegetables, with 15 different varieties.
“Our summers are really hot and dry, so I had to water every day,” Lauren said. “Every day, it took about two or three hours before or after softball practice.”
When it came to harvest, she learned that picking beans was the hardest.
“I didn’t realize how much bending was required for green beans,” she said. “But they’re still my favorite vegetable.”
With the help of her siblings, she was able to harvest the crop to bring in 40 pounds, which she packaged and donated to eight local groups like food banks, soup kitchens, nursing homes and a few social service nonprofits.
This year, Lauren kept her crop going, but upped her crop to a full acre and added 10 more varieties of plants, like herbs, pumpkins cauliflower and jalapeños.
“Lauren’s project truly comes from the heart,” Jenna Kingsley, an FFA adviser at Calamus-Wheatland High School, where Lauren is a junior, told the Washington Post. “Her innate self-confidence and generous hand to help those in need has left an impact larger than she could have imagined."
In the past two years, she's donated 7,000 pounds of produce, including enough tomatoes to 300 batches of spaghetti sauce.
Nancy Renkes, president and CEO of River Bend Food Bank in Davenport, said she is grateful for Lauren’s commitment to area food banks.
“Not only is she helping our mission of ending hunger, she demonstrates the selflessness and philanthropy that is so wonderful to see in younger people,” Renkes said.
Lauren is already planning for next year, and planning to expand. She's hoping to grow another 13,000 pounds of produce and bring her vegetable harvest
“I haven’t planted radishes yet, so that’s on the list for next time,” she said. “And I’m hoping to expand the garden to two acres so we can feed even more people.”
Lauren's siblings, 15-year-old Natalie, and 14-year-old Kody help her box the produce and load it into a pickup, while her 11-year-old brother Blake pulls weeds.
Then, Lauren delivers the vegetables to local nonprofits and a few charities in Davenport.
When her mom accompanied her on one trip, she said that she was brought to tears when her daughter unloaded boxes of cabbage, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes.
“Usually it’s the employees at the nonprofit that come out to greet you, but on this day, Lauren stopped at a domestic violence shelter, and a mom came out to thank her,” Katie Schroeder recalled.
“This woman became emotional and said she couldn’t have a garden like she did in the past, and she was thankful that Lauren’s donations allowed her kids to enjoy the things they used to grow themselves,” she said.
“I’m learning a lot as I go, and I love giving back,” Lauren said. “I’m happy to do it. Everyone deserves to have something healthy to eat.”
Here's our interview with Lauren
Read more at Washington Post