Youth Gardens Persevere, Offer Hope and Joy This Spring
Throughout this tumultuous spring, those of us at KidsGardening have been inspired by all of the remarkable stories of families, schools and communities, who are using gardens to offer hope and joy to children.
COVID-19 closures hit right as the spring growing season was gearing up for youth gardens across the country. After months of planning, most schools and community organizations were suddenly faced with the fact that their carefully laid garden plans needed to change. The speed at which they adapted their plans to meet their communities’ needs and the rate at which families sprouted home gardens to fill in the gaps was nothing short of amazing.
On the first day of spring, The Scotts Miracle Gro Foundation and KidsGardening announced the winners of the 2020 Gro More Good Grassroots Grant Program. Already recognizing the world had changed drastically since the applications were submitted, recipients were given flexibility with their grant awards. They could decline or delay their award or alter their plans to meet more immediate needs. As I reached out to the winners, the overwhelming message I received was one of determination that the garden programs would continue. In fact, many expressed a greater need for gardening to serve their communities in this new reality.
Even though gardens were closed to youth visitors, some groups were finding safe ways for adult volunteers to grow more fruits and vegetables for families in need. A number of our school gardens were providing garden kits and supplies so that families could grow their own food at home. And some of the most touching stories arrived from organization’s serving kids at residential programs and detention centers. They shared how the gardens were providing much needed comfort for kids who were already separated from their homes and dealing with pandemic stress during an already traumatic circumstance.
The Promise of Peace Gardens in Dallas, Texas, is using their Gro More Good Grassroots Grant funds to support their “Soup It Forward” program, which provides container gardens to families in need. The program teaches families how to grow their own food and prepare healthy meals. Director Elizabeth Dry shared with us: “A big component of our “Soup it Forward” program is sharing and caring—a lot of people think that’s soft and sweet, but really, above all else, it’s powerful. Sharing and caring is what changes everything; it’s humanity. And COVID-19 has created a mindset of sharing and caring that wasn’t necessarily there in the community before.”
Imago Dei Middle School in Tucson, Arizona shared that in addition to providing garden kits for their students to continue their learning at home, they are also growing and harvesting the school’s garden beds to provide fresh veggies for food pantry boxes. Enrichment and Farm-to-School Coordinator Frank DiPietrapaul shared that “even when quarantine measures relax, many low-income families will remain in need of food and other necessities so we’re doing everything we can to see to that. While we are forced to stay apart physically during these troubling times, our community stands together in spirit.” Another great example of how gardens are helping to build connection and hope.
At KidsGardening, to say we have seen an increased interest in youth gardening feels like an understatement. Our Kids Garden News subscriber list has grown by over 4,000 people this spring and visits to our KidsGardening Activity Page are up by 480%. To help families and educators during this time, we’ve provided some of our favorite activities to do at home (our Kitchen Scrap Gardening activity is by far the fan favorite), and we compiled a list of exceptionally helpful resources from partner organizations. Our Education Specialist Christine Gall has shared her journey with the Burlington School Food Project to increase their summer harvest to help as many families in need as possible. We were also honored to contribute to The School Garden Support Network’s special COVID-19 resource page and webinar series.
So what does the future hold for youth gardens? That is not an easy question to answer. But as I reflect back on the past few months and the efforts by parents, teachers and volunteers to keep going by growing, I feel certain that gardens have a role in our efforts to teach, engage and care for our children. Gardens offer hope, love and joy when those childhood essentials seem hard to find. They provide places to explore and play when other venues are inaccessible. They provide unplugged activities when screen time threatens to overtake us. At KidsGardening, we are focused on continuing to provide support and assistance to youth gardens across the country as a way to bring families and communities together, to heal and move forward.