GardenWorks by the Numbers: 2012 Recap

Four gardens built. Eighty bags of soil and compost. Thirty vegetable seedlings planted. Seven adults and seventeen children that will benefit from fresh vegetables this year. A bunch of volunteers and donors. One family changed. 

In my first post, I mentioned how Tanya Denckla Cobb’s book, Reclaiming Our Food, changed my life. At the time, I knew I wanted to get involved in the local food movement and because of my background in nonprofits and public health nutrition, I knew it would involve needy families. That’s why the first chapter of her book had such an impact on me – I read stories of groups around the country who were building vegetable gardens for needy families, and knew that I wanted to do just that.

So we got to work. I worked with Kathy and Theresa at the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry to identify five families. We did not do any kind of income eligibility determination, and our reasoning was if these families demonstrated the need to go to a food pantry, that was the only proof we needed. The ladies at the food pantry asked the client if they would be interested in maintaining their own vegetable garden, and forwarded on contact information for the ones that were. I was never able to make contact with one of the families, so in the end, we worked with just four.
We were fortunate enough to receive $125 in donations from the Home Depot, along with other donations like tomato cages, vegetable seedlings, and books about square foot gardening. After reading about our project on my blog, volunteers stepped up to build gardens, provide Spanish translation, and to serve as mentors to our newbie vegetable gardeners.
The days of the garden builds will stay with me forever. I believe that my husband, kids, and I really received more out of meeting the families and building the gardens then they did. The feeling of connecting with another family in this way, especially the kids, was so much more impactful than simply donating money or clothing. I admit that sometimes I feel sheltered in the way that we live in a fancy suburb and at times do not internalize that I have neighbors who need help putting food on the table. Giving money to organizations that help is a wonderful thing to do, but I wish everyone the opportunity to make a face to face connection with someone in need.

 

One family that I really enjoyed was a woman named Maria and her kids. We only met two of them throughout the process, but she had five in total. She is a beautiful Latina mom who wanted to grow tomatoes, tomatillos, Serrano peppers, and cilantro in her garden. When we were done building, she said she wanted to volunteer with us next year to help other families, and invited us over for fresh salsa after her harvest comes in. She wants to build gardens for others. Isn’t this the essence of “pay it forward”?
There were ten children living in an average size house of another family we built for, ages about 18 months to high school. These kids were so incredibly beautiful and well behaved, and so interested in what we were doing. The ones that wanted to were able to plant something, and I hope that we planted the seed in them and the love of fresh veggies and gardening with grow in them.

 

All in all, it was a fabulous experience, even if poorly timed (by me). When I read Reclaiming Our Food, it was already February, so for the next growing season in 2013, I’d like to start identifying families much earlier so that we can begin building in March, and planting in early May. This year, the planning and building coincided with my busy landscape design season, so it was a little stressful balancing both. But it was well worth it.
I’d also like to research starting a 501c3 nonprofit organization so that I can solicit grant funding and donations to build more gardens next year. I’d also like to find a public relations and fundraising volunteer to help.
We helped families not only with fresh veggies this year, but we gave them the knowledge and tools to contribute to their own future self-sufficiency. And we taught our kids about the importance of volunteerism and philanthropy. I can’t wait to see where this project will lead.
 
You'd be surprised how much can grow in a small space!

 

 
Volunteers teach the kids how to plant.

 

 
A new group of friends!



 
All the fixins for salsa verde.



 
Everyone got their hands dirty!
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