I have always been interested in vegetable gardening. The idea of growing my own food holds great appeal; not only could I save money at the grocery store, but I could look at a salad and know exactly where those carrots came from. I could feel proud knowing that I had grown them myself. But I’ve never lived anywhere with enough land to plant a vegetable garden, and that is a problem facing many individuals interested in growing produce. If you live in an apartment, or a house with just a small manicured front lawn, where do you put a vegetable plot?
This month, the Faith Community Action Team launched the spring season of its Family Garden Project. The project is a collaboration with the Family Garden Initiative, an Ohio-based nonprofit that provides garden kits to low-income families at low cost, so that they can grow their own fresh produce. The garden kits include 8 GardenSoxx, mesh tubes filled with compost and nutrients that allow families to grow their own vegetables even when they do not have the land to create an in-ground garden. The garden kits also include seeds, a watering can, a care guide and a recipe guide.
The project was introduced to Dallas in September of 2014, and results were studied and analyzed by Wendy Ortiz, an Emerson Hunger Fellow who served in Dallas for six months. Ortiz found that the project was a mixed success. Of the 29 families that were surveyed in the Fall, 20% were never able to harvest any vegetables. Only two families were able to harvest less than a cup full of collards, spinach and tomatoes, and no families were able to harvest any cabbage or cucumbers. Radishes proved to be the easiest vegetable to grow in the Fall, as eleven families were able to pick 5-10 radishes.
Even though they did not grow a lot of vegetables, virtually all of the families felt that the GardenSoxx empowered them to learn new gardening techniques, as well as teach their children about food production and responsibility. Ortiz compiled a list of best practices for caring for the GardenSoxx based on her observations. She recommended that sites utilize the knowledge of local gardening experts, make sure to plant according to a recommended schedule, choose plants that are easy to grow, and build a community by providing recipients with regular support and gardening information. Armed with these tips, the Faith Community Hunger Solutions Action Team decided to continue the project this Spring, determined to address problems faced during the Fall project and to see if the Spring project could be a success.
It began on Friday, April 10. The six congregations participating arrived at Sharing Life Community Outreach in Mesquite in the early afternoon and gathered around as Ruth Klein, a master gardener, explained best practices for caring for the GardenSoxx. She explained how to plant seeds in the Soxx and provided tips for general care. For example, did you know that watering the leaves of your plants contributes to the plant developing a harmful fungus? Only water the base!
After the training, volunteers helped load the GardenSoxx,
watering cans, seed packets and information booklets onto trucks, and the participating churches took the materials back to their congregations in anticipation of the next day, when the seeds would be planted in the GardenSoxx.
The next day, I drove out to Services of Hope, an education nonprofit that strives to help fifth graders in the Dallas area achieve academic excellence. They also work closely with the local community, and for this reason were interested in sponsoring the GardenSoxx. That sunny Saturday morning I met with Chelsea Knox, the Business/Office Manager, and Jonathan Jones, the Program Manager. They were just finishing up helping their volunteers from SMU paint their offices, and were just about to head out to deliver the GardenSoxx to participating families. They kindly agreed to let me tag along, and I followed their truck as we drove just a few blocks away and delivered the GardenSoxx to three different homes.
The GardenSoxx recipients were mostly families or senior women, and everyone was excited to receive them. Chelsea and Jonathan unloaded the GardenSoxx from the truck and arranged them on front lawns or on ready-made gardens, wherever the recipients indicated. Everyone seemed surprised that the GardenSoxx could be placed virtually anywhere. When they were fully unloaded, Chelsea took the time to carefully go through the care guides with the recipients, showing them step-by-step how to plant and take care of their gardens. She then reminded them that there would be periodic support meetings where garden recipients could discuss their progress and ask
The first of these meetings took place ten days later, at lunch time on Tuesday, April 21. Even though only two of the five garden recipients were able to attend, Chelsea was positive about the experience, excited to discover that all five delivered gardens are right on schedule and that excitement among the recipients was still very high. Another support meeting took place April 23 at Concord Church in southwest Dallas, where several more garden recipients discussed their progress. One gardener expressed interest in making pickles out of the cucumbers she grows, while another is looking forward to her collards.
As the project continues, there will be more support meetings and more check-ins. There will no doubt be some great harvests as the plants begin to grow—in fact, some have even begun see their okra start to sprout!
This post was written and contributed to the blog by Charlotte Johnson, Communications Coordinator for the Dallas office of the Texas Hunger Initiative.