The Grow Your Own program uses an educational template garden located at the Ecumenical Faith in Action food pantry in Abingdon, VA as a training garden and a place for participants to meet and share stories and techniques. In this first year of the project we have helped 25 low-income families that utilize food pantry services to establish 1600 sq. ft. gardens based on the template garden. A 1600 sq. ft. garden is capable of meeting the produce needs of a family of five, with an average $2000 worth of produce being produced. With proper harvest storage and garden planning, families can eat from their gardens nearly year-round, decreasing reliance on food pantries and increasing self-sufficiency, confidence, time spent outdoors together and fresh food consumed.
The GYO program provides assistance such as tilling support and soil testing, supplies (e.g. seeds, plants, tools, compost), and education. The monthly workshops that cover such topics as crop rotation and pest and disease management are also opportunities for participants to socialize and learn from each other. We have found that this project is as much about building social capital and community resilience as it is about providing participants with much needed fresh food.
Our plans for this program include season extension, facilitating market access for those who wish to earn money from this work, and expanding the program to the coalfield counties in VA. We also hope to expand the program to help more families, and to create one-on-one garden mentorship relationships between participants and community volunteers with gardening experience, creating as many happy, healthy, and productive gardens as we can.
We also utilize the educational template garden for youth groups and camps to come out and spend a day harvesting, learning, and exploring.