Growing Gardens for Body and Mind
(Page 2 of 7)
“My garden is like my kids,” says Isabel, a young immigrant from Mexico City who grows food for family and to share with neighbors. Growing Gardens helped Isabel and her neighbors plant a container garden, but Isabel soon got permission from her apartment building’s manager to expand and plant a larger garden. She is proud that her tomatillos are not grown with chemicals like the ones she used to buy in Mexico City. She talks to her plants and says they can understand Spanish or English. When she’s sad, Isabel says, the garden cheers her.
“If it wasn’t for Growing Gardens, this beautiful life of our flowers and plants and raspberries . . . I would give up, really and truly,” says Violet, an elderly woman whose backyard is now brimming with plants. She says that she and her husband rarely shop for groceries because their garden is so productive.
This is just a glimpse into the lives that Growing Gardens is changing — all by the simple act of providing home gardens. “Our vision is to inspire as many people as possible to grow their own food,” says Caitlin Blethen, manager of the Youth Grow program. “Our focus is to work with low-income populations.”
Through years of learning by trial and error, Growing Gardens knows that installing the garden is just the gardener’s first step in a long process of learning. To increase the first-time gardener’s success, and to increase the likelihood that the gardener will actually keep planting seeds for years to come, Growing Gardens has innovated a unique and deliberate safety net for its home gardeners. It is a program worthy of emulation, as it reflects an understanding that people thrive with different kinds of support and interaction.
From the moment that participants enter the Growing Gardens program, they are guided at every step of the way. First, they must make a three-year commitment to stay in the program. In return a volunteer team installs the home garden, and Growing Gardens provides a start-up kit of seeds and tools, free workshops, a monthly newsletter, and, perhaps most important, a personal mentor who will visit at least four times in the season. “I ended up with a wonderful mentor,” says Monique. “We communicate all the time, and she shows up randomly, not just during the growing season.”
At the end of each season, Growing Gardens surveys its home gardeners. The majority, by far, have saved a significant amount of money by growing their own fruits and vegetables, says Rodney Bender, the garden programs manager. And what’s more, they also are eating better — not just because they’re eating fresh produce from their own gardens, but also because they’re doing more thinking about the kinds of food they eat, and what they buy when they go food shopping.
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