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Latest News in Victory Gardens, NJ

nourish.NJ Expands and Adapts to Support Thousands More in Morris County

Photo Credit: nourish.NJPhoto Credit: nourish.NJnourish.NJ's new building renderingPhoto Credit: nourish.NJ By nourish.NJPublishedSeptember 9, 2022 at 11:46 AMFor nearly forty years, nourish.NJ has dedicated every day to providing lasting solutions to hunger, homelessness and poverty in the Morristown area. nourish.NJ has continuously adapted to meet the increasing and shifting needs of their neighbors. Yet, in recent times, it has become a...

Photo Credit: nourish.NJ

Photo Credit: nourish.NJ

nourish.NJ's new building renderingPhoto Credit: nourish.NJ

By nourish.NJ

PublishedSeptember 9, 2022 at 11:46 AM

For nearly forty years, nourish.NJ has dedicated every day to providing lasting solutions to hunger, homelessness and poverty in the Morristown area. nourish.NJ has continuously adapted to meet the increasing and shifting needs of their neighbors. Yet, in recent times, it has become abundantly clear that the impact of hunger, homelessness and poverty in their community is as inflated as current prices, and extends far beyond Morristown.

With costs-of-living continuing to rise, and a 30%+ increase in their clientele as of late, it is obvious that this is just the beginning of an unprecedented demand for nourish.NJ’s programs and offerings. In light of this, they’re undertaking their greatest adaptation yet; They’ve begun the process of expanding both geographically and programmatically to tackle increasing poverty rates throughout Morris County.

Geographically, nourish.NJ’s expansion will include the opening of a 6,000 square foot Community Hub in Victory Gardens, the establishment of additional mobile and satellite locations throughout the county, as well as the maintenance and enhancement of their current location and operations in Morristown. Programmatically, with the help of community partners, their expansion will increase the capacity of current programs, such as fresh, daily meals, Free Farmers Markets, case management, employment and physical health programs, and introduce new vocational training, mental health, youth-focused, and immigration support programs. Overall, this expansion will allow nourish.NJ to reach and support thousands more in the near future, and in more dynamic ways than ever before.

Community support is critical in enabling nourish.NJ to be there for Morris County tomorrow, as well as in allowing them to continue being there for the Morristown area today. You can help maintain the organization’s current work by getting involved in the Walk for nourish.NJ, and ensure their ongoing work by donating to the “Campaign to Expand Our Reach”. For more information on nourish.NJ’s expansion plans, and the Walk for nourish.NJ, visit www.nourishnj.org.

Editor's Note: This advertorial content is being published by TAPinto.net as a service for its marketing partners. For more information about how to market your business on TAPinto, please email [email protected].

Victory Gardens Were More About Solidarity Than Survival

During World War II, millions of Americans grew their own vegetables, but the movement was driven much more by government and corporate messaging than by the threat of starvation.July 15, 2020In the latest article from “Beyond the World War II We Know,” a series from The Times that documents lesser-known stories from World War II, we recount the history of victor...

During World War II, millions of Americans grew their own vegetables, but the movement was driven much more by government and corporate messaging than by the threat of starvation.

July 15, 2020

In the latest article from “Beyond the World War II We Know,” a series from The Times that documents lesser-known stories from World War II, we recount the history of victory gardens and some of the misconceptions of how they emerged after the United States joined the conflict.

Of all the celebrated nostalgic markers of World War II, few are as memorable as America’s victory gardens — those open lots, rooftops and backyards made resplendent with beets, broccoli, kohlrabi, parsnips and spinach to substitute for the commercial crops diverted to troops overseas during the war.

The gardens were strongly encouraged by the American government during World War I as part of the at-home efforts, yet they became immensely more popular with the introduction of food rationing during the Second World War as processed and canned foods were shipped abroad.

It’s often said that this later era of victory gardens emerged out of grass-roots collective action to prevent the risk of running out of food, which was already hurting countries all over Europe. Despite the millions of pounds of food being diverted from American kitchen tables for the war effort, there was little threat of citizens going hungry. Rather, the victory-garden movement was driven much more by government and corporate messaging meant to invoke American solidarity.

“Americans like to portray that they worked hard and would have starved had they not gardened,” said Allan M. Winkler, a distinguished professor emeritus of history at Miami University of Ohio. “Victory gardens were a symbol of abundance and doing it yourself, but that was more symbolism than reality.”

Nearly two-thirds of American households participated in some form of national harvest; even Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House lawn. By 1943, close to 20 million families planted seven million acres of gardens across the United States, producing more than 15 billion pounds, or roughly 40 percent, of the fresh produce Americans consumed that year.

Public service advertisements urging Americans to grow vegetables and to can them peppered libraries, community centers and newsreels in movie theaters. They offered motivational messages such as “Your country needs soybeans,” and “Can all you can. It’s a real war job!” One poster featured a fresh-faced girl in overalls holding a hoe and a basket of bounty, with the tagline “Grow vitamins at your kitchen door.”

Still, food-production levels throughout American involvement in the war were pretty stable. The peak year of rationing in the United States was in 1943, and food shortages never neared those in Europe and Asia. In 1942, for example, Americans consumed 138 pounds of meat per capita, a mere three pounds less than the prior year, according to Amy Bentley’s 1998 book “Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity.” Americans were pressed to leave more for troops, with government campaigns stressing that fighting men would get their strength from meat.

“Look and Life magazines were where people got information,” said Bentley, a professor of food studies at New York University. “Citizens had a clear understanding of the threats of war and what their efforts were supposed to be, and corporations wanted to be associated with that.”

The National Victory Garden Program, which was created by the War Food Administration in 1941, got early and strong support from corporations. It was a very top-down movement, with a board composed of chief executives from agriculture companies who saw the gardens as an exercise both in expressing their patriotism and product placement, according to Anastasia Day, a scholar in the University of Delaware’s history department. Many of the companies gave packs of seeds — often labeled “Victory Seeds” — with purchase of their products. In return, corporations received tax breaks for promoting the war efforts to consumers.

“I think one modern-day analogue is how big oil companies promote alternative energies and green washing, ostensibly working against their own interest,” said Day. “Just as Green Giant peas were big supporters of victory gardens.”

The messaging from the top also attempted to shift American eating habits through promotional campaigns and even changing nutritional guidelines that often celebrated specific sectors of agriculture. For example, as the government tried to further ration meat intended for servicemen, Americans were pushed to enjoy soybeans, peanut butter, eggs and organ meats. Newspapers printed how-to columns on building chicken houses and caring for hens.

While it feels easy to draw narrative lines between victory gardens and the organic, local food movement of today, in truth the fresh-vegetable trends of World War II were almost immediately subsumed by postwar Jell-O molds, cake mixes and frozen dinners — all markers of modern living at the time. Many women did most of the cooking and enjoyed being free of domestic gardening and canning, and celebrated all forms of culinary convenience during the baby boom era. That was especially true of white families who populated the newly developing suburbs after the war.

“The rise of suburbs was the culmination of this urge that owning property and having your own space of land is something that is inherently American,” Day explained. “Victory gardens were a transitional phase on the way to the promise that was largely fulfilled for white, upwardly mobile working-class Americans as they moved to the suburbs,” where victory gardens all but disappeared.

The gleaming new suburban developments tended not to include garden plots. What is more, entrusting corporations with food preparation was the ultimate postwar cultural shift (so cleverly captured in the show “Mad Men”).

As a result of the new processed food trends, American tastes evolved too, trending away from fresh flavors and seasonal produce. A generation later, those preferences would return to become the centerpieces of upscale restaurants in the contemporary United States. While many Black families in the South and Latinos in the Southwest kept up gardening traditions, predominantly white suburban homes were big on shelf-stable products to fill newly expansive pantries, and technology that had gone toward the war effort was transplanted to things used in the home.

“The golden age of food processing created a plethora of products, and consumers were enamored by them,” Bentley said. “Fresh-tasting produce becomes less important than convenience, shelf stability, price and storage capacity. People also learned they like the heavy sugars and salt used in canned vegetables and fruit.”

This spring, there was a spurt of new attention to the wartime victory gardens, and a search for lessons and inspiration for Americans locked down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some citizens were turning to their own gardens for dinner. There was a spate of replanting onions from scraps and a run on seeds. But that attention has been eclipsed by ominous news from the home front, where coronavirus infections and deaths have surged, and backyard gardening in 2020 has lacked a unified, depoliticized social movement to fuel it.

“As I think about the victory gardens of World War II, I think their most important value was in getting the public to feel involved in the war,” Winkler said. “In the Covid-19 pandemic, there is some of that. Wearing masks is protective, and necessary, to be sure, but it also gives us a sense of doing our part.”

Victory gardens hold place in history, hearts of those needing a refuge during the pandemic

In April, we were so starved for life and living that we saved a sprouted cooking onion, named it the Hope Onion, and grew it in a vase indoors where we could watch its pale roots get long and tangled. Meanwhile, The New York Times called us “scallion nation,” and people on the Internet thought we all should be victory gardeners again.At the ...

In April, we were so starved for life and living that we saved a sprouted cooking onion, named it the Hope Onion, and grew it in a vase indoors where we could watch its pale roots get long and tangled. Meanwhile, The New York Times called us “scallion nation,” and people on the Internet thought we all should be victory gardeners again.

At the Fenway Victory Gardens on a recent Sunday in May, Brenda Velez, in overalls and a mask, was working her plot.

“I got my seeds ready,” Velez said. “I’m ready to go.”

There are real victory gardeners in Boston already — 405 of them, down on the Fens, tending 15-by-25-foot plots where their own onions have deep roots in the historic ground, where the radishes are up, the lilacs in bloom, and the resurrection in full swing.

Community gardens have been allowed to remain open during the shutdown, and this of course includes the Fenway Victory Gardens. Established in 1942, it is the nation’s oldest surviving war garden. On the original 7.5 acres along the Muddy River, just one block from Fenway Park, it endures.

During World War II, the Fenway Victory Gardens was one of 49 planted all over the city, including on Boston Common. A neighboring piece of land on the Fenway was even maintained as a “model victory garden” by the Globe, which published lengthy front-page articles about its progress.

Victory gardens famously produced 44 percent of Americans’ wartime fruits and vegetables. Some 2,600 families participated in Boston, 20 million nationwide, according to “To Dwell Is to Garden: A History of Boston’s Community Gardens” by Sam Bass Warner Jr.

“I can’t even tell you how exciting it is to be part of that [history],” said Velez, 54, a visual merchandiser who designs store displays and whom the pandemic has forced out of a job.

“I feel like this is another war, a different one. We’re still there [at the Victory Gardens]. We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “We’re still out there with Mother Earth, making the most of things.”

Americans have gardened through many of the great crises in our history, and those without their own land have planted on public property.

During the depression of the 1890s, Mayor Hazen Pingree created potato patch gardens for Detroit’s unemployed. In Boston in 1895, 52 men and two women each harvested some 20 to 55 bushels of potatoes on land the Industrial Aid Society for the Prevention of Pauperism secured, Warner wrote. Similar efforts were restarted during the Great Depression — relief gardens, thrift gardens.

Unlike the victory gardens of World Wars I and II, these gardens are little known today. Poverty is light on propaganda, heavy on potatoes.

Many temporary gardens — glorified and not — simply vanished after the time of need. Not on the Fens, where gardeners adapted to peacetime, mounting a successful campaign at the mayor’s office and shifting production from food to flowers.

“As far as is known, there is no identical project in this country,” late cofounder Richard D. Parker wrote in a typescript preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society. “It is indeed an outstanding privilege to have a garden in The Fenway.”

Many of today’s gardeners live nearby, in small homes made even smaller by stay-at-home advisories. Christine Nelson, 34, a pharmacist, told me her victory garden is actually bigger than the Fenway apartment she shares with her husband.

Walking the Victory Gardens’ narrow, wood-chipped lanes is an intimate affair. One peers not into conventional community garden plots, but into the vast outdoor living rooms of the little-apartment people. There are couches and benches and chairs, and lawns as smooth as area rugs. Shiny bric-a-brac catching the thin, early morning sun. A statue of Jizo, the Japanese splinter-removing god. All kinds of things, a vast collection — every gardener’s own mark.

“A lot of people refer to it as a large backyard,” said Gerald Cooper, 77, who is keeping busy building a brick patio in the back of the plot he’s had for more than 20 years.

“I’m there every day, five or six hours at least. Even when there’s rain, I’ll think about going. I usually debate about whether to go down there in the rain or stay in the apartment and clean it up,” he said. “I usually go down there in the rain.”

The gardens are not unchanged. Veterans say there’s a kind of uneasiness now, with old friends and neighbors in masks, 6 feet or more away. Some are converting their plots back to their original purpose.

“Before the pandemic we had a lot of gardeners that were raising perennials, flowers, and some herbs,” said Elizabeth Bertolozzi, Fenway Victory Gardens president. “[Now] people are really determined to do some additional vegetable gardening, because every little bit helps and they’re just concerned that maybe they could put their plots to better use.”

Rick Richter, vice president of the Victory Gardens, is planting an all-vegetable crop for the first time. He’s got 150 tomato plants started in his small apartment.

“I’ve got grow lights all over the place and plants all over,” Richter, 64, explained from home. “It’s going to be a little jungle in here, so I’m really hoping for some warm weather pretty soon.”

The Trustees of Reservations, which manages 56 Boston community gardens (although not the Fenway Victory Gardens, a nonprofit on city land), reports a surge in requests for plots this spring. Applications have doubled. And even in good times, there are not enough plots to meet demand.

“The major role of food access is of course highlighted in this economically insecure time,” said Michelle de Lima, who is the engagement manager for The Trustees’ community gardens. “[But] I don’t think realistically the majority of those people are [gardening] because they have no other way to get food. I think they’re doing it because they’re going a little crazy and they need something positive and hopeful in their lives.”

Zachary Nowak, a historian of urban agriculture and a Harvard College fellow, agreed.

“As far as victory gardens becoming the source of everyone’s food, I don’t know,” he said. “But those people … who just grow flowers and flowering bushes … are giving a much more important gift to the rest of us in the city — and that’s just hope, straight up.”

Scott Zak is one such victory gardener. The 58-year-old Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center nurse grows only flowers in the sunbaked plot he’s had for 25 years: marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums, and three colors of statice: purple, white, and blue.

He works in the organ transplant unit, so he cannot bring flowers into the hospital, but sometimes he’ll take pictures for his patients.

He said that even in a non-COVID-19 unit, the situation at Beth Israel is very tense.

“It’s horrible. Everything you see on TV is accurate,” he reported. “We were having a meeting among nurses and other staff members — kind of, like, get in touch of how we’re dealing with stress — and the social worker says, ‘Does anyone have any ways of dealing with stress?’ Everyone kind of looked at each other, like, not really, you know, just grin and bear it. And then one of the nurses said, ‘Well, Scott, you have your garden, don’t you?’ ”

Gardens created for war have become a refuge from a new plague and new problems.

“It doesn’t mean to say that you go there and you forget that everything is happening,” explained Marie Fukuda, 54, a victory gardener on the Fens and a project coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital. “But it’s a reminder that there’s a pace of things that will continue regardless of whether we continue — and although that sounds weird, it’s also very comforting.”

After 24 years, “I can go out there and the same pesky weed that drives me crazy is coming up at around the same time it always does,” Fukuda said.

In springs and summers past, Seth Kilgore, a 64-year-old John Hancock Financial Services employee, could be seen walking from the garden to his South End apartment with a bucketful of fresh-cut flowers: peonies, zinnias, sunflowers.

Daffodils are his favorites, and over the past two decades he’s accumulated a large collection. Many are hand-me-downs from other victory gardeners who have moved out or moved on.

This spring there were flowers, but no gardener.

“We’ve missed the daffodils this year,” Kilgore said. His wife’s at high risk, so he hasn’t been down to his garden at all. “But there’ll be other years.”

Gene Tempest is a Cambridge-based writer and historian. Read more of her work at genetempest.com and get in touch at [email protected].

How to Grow a Victory Garden of Any Size

First the raised beds arrived, three narrow boxes lining the edge of my yard. Then came the soil in a big pungent pile, demanding to be shoveled. And last weekend, I brought home trays of delicate little plants that promise a summer of Swiss chard, snap peas, tomatoes and beets.The last time my family grew fruits and vegetables, I was a child, and I mostly nibbled my father’s strawberry patch clean. But this summer I’m growing my family’s food.With the prospect of a long, hot season spent mostly at home, my ga...

First the raised beds arrived, three narrow boxes lining the edge of my yard. Then came the soil in a big pungent pile, demanding to be shoveled. And last weekend, I brought home trays of delicate little plants that promise a summer of Swiss chard, snap peas, tomatoes and beets.

The last time my family grew fruits and vegetables, I was a child, and I mostly nibbled my father’s strawberry patch clean. But this summer I’m growing my family’s food.

With the prospect of a long, hot season spent mostly at home, my garden has never looked riper for growing. I am not alone. Garden centers are reporting a surge in business as homeowners look for ways to grow vegetables, in a spirit reminiscent of the Victory Gardens of World War I and World War II. As Americans face deep economic insecurity, coupled with food shortages and long lines at the grocery store, gardening has taken on a new urgency.

“If you are worried about Covid-19 and going to stores, you have a lot of control over your own environment in your own garden,” said Janice Parker, principal of Janice Parker Landscape Architects in Greenwich, Conn.

With a little planning, and some good soil, planting a vegetable garden can pass the time and put food on the table. Here’s how to get one started.

Finding Supplies

Before you start your gardening project, contact your local garden center to find out if they are open, what supplies they have in stock and what social-distancing measures are in place. Most states have declared garden centers essential services, but there still may be restrictions or shortages of some supplies.

You will most likely need containers, raised beds (or lumber to make your own), fencing materials and, of course, plants, seeds and soil. And if you don’t have a good shovel, gardening gloves and hand tools, now is the time to get those items.

Some garden centers are offering delivery or curbside drop-off. Others are practicing social distancing inside the premises. Seeds and other materials can be ordered online, although deliveries may be delayed, and since it’s midway through May, time is of the essence.

Join a local gardening group (many can be found on Facebook), and see if anyone in your area is trading seedlings or supplies they do not need. The connections can also help you learn skills from seasoned gardeners. “One of the ways people get access to things when things are in short supply, is they’ve got a network of friends,” said Carol Deppe, a plant breeder and the author of “The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times.

The Tiniest Indoor Garden

You don’t need access to the outdoors to garden. If you have a window, you have space to grow a little food, even if it’s just a pot of herbs on the windowsill.

“Even if you don’t have a fire escape or a balcony, you can still be growing a tiny garden in your kitchen,” said Leah Penniman, the farm manager of Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, N.Y. and the author of “Farming While Black.”

You could grow microgreens on an empty aluminum tray or takeout food container. Punch holes in the bottom, fill it with soil, and densely lay the seeds — kale, collard greens, mustard greens or radishes — on top of the soil. Cover the seeds with a damp paper towel and water them every day, keeping the soil “moist as a sponge,” said Ms. Penniman. Once they sprout, remove the paper towel and in about two weeks, you’ll have microgreens.

A Garden for a Balcony, Rooftop or Fire Escape

Plants like tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, chard, herbs, eggplant and even potatoes can grow in containers on a balcony, rooftop or fire escape, so long as you choose ones suitable for your region of the country.

You should select small and vertical growing varieties of your favorite vegetables. If you’re planting a rooftop garden, make sure you don’t inadvertently block any drainage pipes or gutters. If you’re using a fire escape, be sure to keep exit routes clear. Place a trellis against a balcony wall and grow vines, such as varieties of cucumbers, squash, peas and pole beans.

“Some vegetables are good for small patios, like Tumbling Tom is grown in a hanging basket,” said Diana Cluff, the plant designer at the Farm at Green Village, a garden center in Green Village, N.J. “It’s a wonderful cherry tomato. It cascades.”

Choose containers with good drainage, in whatever material appeals to your taste — ceramic, wood, plastic or a fabric grow bag. Larger pots will be easier to maintain than smaller ones because the soil will not dry out as quickly, so choose as large a container as possible. Self-watering containers extend the time between watering. Place your containers in a spot with full sun before you fill them with organic potting mix. (Once the pots are filled, they’ll be heavy to move.) Place vines against a wall or railing, to make it easier for the vines to climb.

A Bed in the Garden

Before you make your planting bed, choose a location with at least six hours of full sun. If your garden has good quality soil and is free of toxins, like lead, you can dig directly into the ground, removing any sod, weeds and roots, and replenishing the soil with a mix of compost and potting soil. But get your soil tested before you attempt to grow food in it.

If you’re not up for testing, prepping and tilling, build a raised bed. You will be able to control the soil, the weeds and, if you’re renting your home, take your box with you when you move. You can buy ready-made raised beds at a garden supply company, or build your own with lumber, nails and screws. (I ordered my raised bed from a local craftsman who built three narrow ones to fit my small space.)

Place a layer of landscape fabric beneath your raised bed and then fill the box with soil. Ms. Penniman recommends using a mix of 50 percent topsoil and 50 percent compost. You can buy bags of organic raised bed soil, too. Many municipalities give away compost, so ask yours if any is available. An online soil calculator can help you determine how much soil you need before you shop.

To keep the furry and feathered neighbors from eating your bounty before you do, lay a mesh barrier underneath the bed and build a fence around it. The fence should be tall and sturdy enough to keep deer, rabbits and groundhogs out, but does not need to be a fortress. “People are told to build a much more aggressive fence than they need — ours are five feet high,” said John Carlson, the owner of Homefront Farmers, a Redding, Conn., company that designs, builds and maintains garden beds.

What to Plant

Let your stomach tell you what to plant. If tomatoes are your jam, double down. If you never eat eggplant, it doesn’t deserve a spot in your plot.

“It doesn’t do you any good to plant red radishes and then they sit around because no one in the family likes little red radishes,” Ms. Deppe, the author of “The Tao of Vegetable Gardening,” said. “Grow stuff your family eats.”

Follow the guides on the seed packet or seedling labels to avoid crowding, as your plants will need space to spread out. Be sure to follow your regional planting schedule, so your plants don’t end up in the ground too early or too late. An online garden planner can help you plot out your garden. Soul Fire Farm has been offering weekly gardening tutorials on its Facebook page. And your local garden center can tell you the ideal time to put plants in the ground, and can direct you to low maintenance, disease-resistant varieties.

Add a thin layer of mulch on top of your bed to reduce weeds. You can also use a drip irrigation system (it can be hooked up to a garden hose) to make watering easier. Cluster your containers together so they’re easy to water at once with a sprayer, and make sure you water consistently so the soil doesn’t dry out.

Whatever you do, plant food and flowers that will bring you joy, and will be easy to grow. “The last thing you need this summer is to be disappointed,” Ms. Parker, the landscape architect, said. “This is not the summer for disappointment.”

Creative community connections

Support for local community organizations is a hallmark of independent garden centers. When schools and other groups need fundraising help, they often turn to local IGCs first. Now growing interest in community gardening, local foods and edible schoolyards is turning the tables and providing IGCs with fresh opportunities to deepen community ties and take the cap off the traditional spring season.Reconnecting with community garden roots.At Mendham Ga...

Support for local community organizations is a hallmark of independent garden centers. When schools and other groups need fundraising help, they often turn to local IGCs first. Now growing interest in community gardening, local foods and edible schoolyards is turning the tables and providing IGCs with fresh opportunities to deepen community ties and take the cap off the traditional spring season.

Reconnecting with community garden roots.

At Mendham Garden Center in Chester, N.J., co-owner Greg Loth and his staff are on a mission to simplify gardening for their community. By hearkening back to the patriotic roots of community gardening and the Victory Gardens of WWII, Loth hopes to reconnect gardeners with the simple victory of growing their own food.

Loth believes that information overload overwhelms many would-be gardeners.

“A lot of people could be involved in gardening, but they haven’t been exposed to it in a simple way,” he says. By helping people experience a part of history with a victory garden — whether a container or a community plot — excitement displaces discouragement.

“It’s a simple process to grow something. Then you eat it at the dinner table three months later,” Loth says. “There’s a lot of excitement that goes with that.”

Mendham’s victory garden focus got a boost when a local elementary school principal saw one of the IGC’s WWII-era Victory Garden posters. With Rosie the Riveter and superheroes such as Batman, Robin and Superman in Victory Garden settings, the posters became an age-appropriate history lesson and a coloring project for second graders. Another helpful fit is the IGC’s civic gardener, Cole Kleitsch, a former history and civics teacher. Kleitsch takes the Victory Garden message into the community through personal involvement with veterans and other groups.

“We don’t need a war to get together to start a garden,” Kleitsch says.

Last winter, Mendham staff visited community garden clubs and fostered connections with community gardens and local organic growers using the historic and patriotic to spur interest. The focus remains on simplicity, victorious gardening, organic methods, and locally grown produce. Late-summer plans include seminars in canning and pickling, while winter will see community groups on site learning about year-round growing through indoor gardening.

“We want to help people continue the gardening experience year-round,” Loth says. “The victory is in the growing.”

Taking school connections into the field.

Many IGCs are connecting to school gardens, but Oregon-based Al’s Garden Center is forging school connections with a broader scope. By partnering with a statewide Adopt a Farmer program designed to reconnect kids with their agricultural roots, Al’s is reaching the next generation of gardeners and horticulturists.

When Oregon Aglink approached Al’s, the program seemed a natural fit given the company’s history of community involvement and service.

“This type of involvement is grounded in this company’s values,” says Laura Hammond, Al’s director of marketing. “Being part of the communities we serve is one of the ‘seeds of knowledge’ training that all employees go through at Al’s Garden Center.”

Adopt a Farmer pairs agricultural businesses with classrooms for the academic school year. This past year, Al’s first in the five-year-old program, the company was matched with a class of 70 eighth-graders, complete with related science curriculum. At this academic level, the classwork involved a simulation of a nursery production business, including crop choices, planting decisions, production spreadsheets, profit/loss statements, and even roll-of-the-dice variables such as unexpected utility increases. Students visited Al’s farm and were exposed to propagation, automation, and crop rotation, and Al’s staff visited the classroom in return.

Mallory Phelan, Oregon Aglink vice president of operations, says the program reached out to ranchers, nurseries, and wineries in an effort to show kids that agriculture and farming involves more than traditional crops such as beans and corn.

“There’s no one else that we know of with the same type of program,” Phelan says. Organized and run through a nonprofit, it covers expenses for the field trips, substitute teachers and other related costs. Several nurseries have now joined the program’s ranks.

Hammond says that rewards from Al’s involvement range from “revived and re-excited” employees to the look on a child’s face. The staff is excited about the approaching school year. “It’s a win all the way around,” Hammond says. “We want to cultivate our love of the earth and gardening into the next generation.”

Building community from the inside out.

For Wisconsin-based McKay Nursery, connections with community gardens and school initiatives reach wide, but also stay close to home. One example is the company’s employee garden, started in 2013 as part of a regional initiative to increase sustainability among businesses. Set on land previously used for production with seed started in McKay’s greenhouse, the first garden yielded more than 3,000 pounds of produce distributed to employees, four local food pantries and two local fire departments. About 30 employees now work together on a scaled-back version, handling planting, weeding, harvesting and watering.

Much of McKay’s community involvement impacts schools, healthy eating programs, and sustainable native or edible landscape projects that transcend typical garden connections. One example is a regional healthy-eating initiative affiliated with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program and the Wisconsin School Garden Network (WSGN). Beth Hanna, training and outreach specialist for WSGN, is enthusiastic about McKay’s support.

“McKay really gets involved, with fruit trees and edible packages in a very supportive, branded way,” she says. The company name is associated with healthy-eating and local foods programs, and winning schools have edible McKay plants in their school gardens.

McKay’s landscape and design studio has worked with several schools on projects incorporating edible landscapes and natural play areas. School fundraising packages include edible or native plant packages, herb starter kits, wild bird gardens, and other themes that can be used as teaching tools as well. Design staff are also well-versed in helping schools and other organizations write grants for garden projects. One example of community impact is HOME GR/OWN Milwaukee, a project to transform vacant urban lots into “pocket parks” with community gardens and sustainable designs that incorporate fruit trees, vegetables and native plants, while improving community access to healthy, locally grown food.

Launching with limited resources.

By nature, community requests for donations and IGC involvement often come when you can least afford to invest staff and resources. But making community involvement a priority — and spreading foundation-building programs throughout the year — can limit high-season interruptions and extend patronage beyond spring.

At McKay, that means getting involved with causes you care about rather than something trendy, as evidenced in the company’s commitment to schools and edibles.

“Any time we can help introduce a new generation to hardy perennial edibles, it just seems like a great win-win,” says Tim Flood, president of McKay. He notes that timing can be tricky, but encourages IGCs to start small and grow new ideas and partnerships in the off season.

With the success of Adopt a Farmer, Hammond suggests IGCs partner with statewide agriculture and other larger organizations.

“When the agricultural community and private garden centers and community connect, that’s when good stuff happens,” she says. “We’re all resource-limited, so leverage what other people are doing. Find a partnership that complements, then tap in, to have as big an impact as possible.”

With simplicity spelling victory at Mendham Garden Center, Loth keeps his advice for community connections just as straightforward.

“I look back at the business over so many years, and people looking for that next SKU to make a difference,” he says. “Let’s do what we enjoy doing — helping people — and everything else will follow.”

Jolene is a freelance writer and former hort professional based in Madison, Wisconsin. She is a frequent contributor to GIE Media Horticulture Group publications.


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