Strength in Numbers

“By soliciting modest contributions from the many, we have produced a store of collective know-how with far greater power than any individual could have achieved.” In 2008, Atul Gawande published Better. It is a collection of medical essays. However, it is not the type of writing that one would expect from a surgeon at the top of his game. It is an introspective examination of details and, as others have said, compassion and humility. Why look back at the small things when outcomes are positives and numbers are up? Why pursue character strengths for the greater good? And what use to the world would these gifts be once discovered? Up from the Earth (UFTE) took a step back to dissect these questions for itself and saw great potential for growth in the Spring of 2021 and Siouxland volunteers.

Since 2014, UFTE has been serving Siouxland with its creativity by harnessing the power of local gardeners to increase food security. During these six years, approximately 130,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables have been harvested. This is a lot of food for families. Breaking it down, about 390,000 servings of fresh, seasonal, complex carbohydrates hit the tables of Siouxland. That is a big deal. This helps lower cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and reduces the the risk of stroke. We are also helping parents teach healthy lifestyle choices. Why does this not seem like enough? 

Honestly, according to the Foodbank of Siouxland, “Not only those who were food insecure before we heard the term COVID-19 or coronavirus but now countless individuals and families who are no longer certain of their paychecks are likely to need our help as well.” This means more families are in need now. Gardeners are starting to look ahead to bump up produce production for the summer. Even though our numbers are strong, and the collection sites and pantries are working together, we also need to assess our strength as a UFTE team. When we examine the details and inspect our actions, we can see how we can make them better. 

Sometimes the act of checking out the details reminds us of Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob? as he is about to go sailing, “but if your friend is a good sailor, and the craft is seaworthy.” Often, we rely on our judgment or the  abilities of others. We seek people out who have certain skills or talents to help or assist. In the case of Up from the Earth, those with more computer proficiencies tackle the website, ISU Extension Master Gardeners seek out the gardens, and former teachers assist with public education. We see it as planting a garden with fertile soil. The interesting part is that these resources have a fluidity because they are connected to character strengths. We are strong not because we are gardeners, teachers, or other professionals. We are strong because we possess many of the VIA Institute on Character’s 24 Strengths of Character.

When you have a moment, check out Here is where you will find: Strength comes in many forms, and values like prudence, humility, and kindness are really good things to bring to the table. Take the ten minutes to learn what kind of signature principles are guiding your life. Which ones come most natural to you? Are you one of those people that ask lots of questions? Curiosity may be your strength. Similarly, to those diving into a task with their head are those leading with their heart. If you find yourself working at this for a longer period of time than ten minutes, you may have persistence or a Love of Learning. Often these two go together, combining like a recipe for chocolate zucchini bread. For those relentless individuals who seek to create something better than the original, you are UFTE. As a result, with the sage words of Dr. Gawande ringing in our ears, Up from the Earth is seeking the collective contributions of Siouxland gardeners and problem-solvers this Spring of 2021.

UFTE’s detail that we can do better is to gather a strong database of volunteers. The question is how do we expand this archive to have talents and skills that are inside and outside the garden realm during a pandemic? As Sonny would say, “We go to the mattresses.” No, we go to the technology! This year UFTE is starting a SignUpGenius for volunteers who have a passion for decreasing food insecurity in Siouxland. If you are physically strong and want to be a Harvest Hero or work in one of our community gardens, we need you. If you are a family that wants to volunteer as a group, we can connect you. Likewise, if you appreciate beauty and have a sense of humor, there is definitely a place for you with us. We are seeking the gritty, the curious, the persistent. This year, when we plant, share, grow we want to know, are you Zesty? As we are a Hopeful group with Gratitude for the Kindness that Siouxland has shown UFTE’s last six growing seasons, we are looking forward to connecting people and having our numbers grow. 

To sign up, Go to:

Or stop by our Facebook page at:

Or website:

Lisa Cox, an ISU/Woodbury County Extension Master Gardener, NATABOC Certified Athletic Trainer, and former high school teacher, combines her passion for education and gardening while seeking to understand the impact of food insecurity. She is active in UFTE, DKG, the South Sioux Cooperative Learning Garden, and the Sioux City Garden Club.

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