City Sprouts—a nonprofit organization based in Omaha—is on a mission to use urban agriculture as a platform to develop equitable food systems, provide educational opportunities, and build community. Founded in 1995 when community members transformed an overgrown lot near 40th and Seward, the ½ acre community garden is now the oldest in the city. The North Garden offers 45 raised garden beds, a beehive, chickens, and a geodesic dome greenhouse.
In 2021, City Sprouts partnered with Food Bank for the Heartland to deliver fresh produce to its pantry partners. According to Program and Distribution Manager, Laura Simpson, the partnership was a direct result of the pandemic. “COVID provided us with more time to grow food since we couldn’t teach our educational classes, and access to fresh food was a huge need in our community.”
Laura says that’s when the team shifted their focus to growing as much food as possible. “We had a record-breaking year, growing nearly 20,000 lbs. of produce at various urban lots across the city. Knowing we had the capacity to grow that much helped secure new local partnership opportunities—such as the Food Bank—to distribute large quantities of produce to the community.”
For Laura and her team, the Food Bank partnership was a unique opportunity they couldn’t pass up. “We saw this as a chance to bring awareness to the food system and help educate people on where food comes from. Plus, it supports local farmers while providing food pantries with locally grown, quality produce.”
Currently, City Sprouts provides 400 lbs. of fresh produce every week to Bountiful Harvest, one of the Food Bank’s pantry partners. Both organizations are excited to see the program expand in the years to come. According to Laura, it’s just one of the ways City Sprouts is combating food insecurity in Omaha.
“This year, we transitioned to a community model where anybody can come to our gardens and pick anything they need.” City Sprouts also houses a community garden in south Omaha—located on 18th & N street—which is also open to community members.
With robust programs and educational services already in place, the nonprofit is looking ahead with plans to expand production at an urban farm in the Carter Lake area. “We really want it to be a localized food hub—where people can see different growing techniques, whether it’s conventional farming, or incorporating more indigenous growing techniques. We want it to be a place where people can feel safe and nourished, not just physically—but emotionally, too,” says Laura.
Providing that emotional and physical nourishment has always been at the core of everything City Sprouts does. It’s why the nonprofit started Free Fridges and Pantries in 2021 to promote community well-being through equitable access to food, clothing, and basic hygiene items. They currently partner with local organizations to keep the fridge stocked, but the project’s vision is much broader. “The eventual goal is to see a network of Free Fridges and Pantries in Omaha, collectively addressing the unique needs of neighboring communities by modeling mutual aid,” says Laura.
As the organization grows, they aim to maintain a grass roots approach and empower people to live more sustainably, through community engagement. Laura says it’s clear that community connectedness is exactly what Omaha needs right now. “We’ve been able to talk to and meet more of our neighbors who access the free produce. There’s also a lot of neighborhood kids in the area who come over because they just want someone to talk to. It’s those small things that make a big difference in someone’s day.”
City Sprouts is doing just that—planting seeds today—to make a difference in our community tomorrow.
For more information about City Sprouts Free Fridge and Pantry as well as additional community resources, click here.