Island Grown offers home gardening tips

Home gardens promote food security and overall well-being.

Kids can get outside and connect with nature with Island Grown at Home's instructional videos. — Courtesy Island Grown Schools

Not only are home gardens a great way to create food security for you and your family, but they allow adults and children alike to connect with nature and learn more about their environment.

This time of year, the folks at Island Grown Schools would normally be working in classrooms to teach the next generation about healthy eating choices, different ways to grow food, and the best ways to connect with local farms.

But with schools closed, Island Grown has created a new way for households to learn about gardening, smart food choices, and the natural world.

Labeled Island Grown at Home, the home gardening initiative is complete with a weekly newsletter to subscribers outlining various ways to jumpstart their home food production.

The program also provides fun activities for kids to do that get them outside to learn about all the plants and animals that surround them.

A fun activity for kids includes having them draw pictures of plants, insects, and animals, and using all five senses to observe their environment.

The first week, Island Grown at Home provided an informational video that outlined different ways to get started on a home gardening project, such as taking old plastic containers and using them for planting.

The video also suggests quick-to-grow plants such as kale, lettuce, arugula, beets, and radishes, that are good to start growing this time of year.

“Our full-time educators from Island Grown Schools are so used to being in the schools every day teaching kids,” Noli Taylor, community food education director at Island Grown Initiative (IGI), said. “After the schools shut down, we diverted a lot of our staff to our farms and farm stands to help with food production and distribution.”

But two of the IGI staff are expecting babies, so they started working from home and putting together various materials that help folks grow their own food, and are even sharing recipes for cooking delicious and healthy meals. 

“Ava Castro and Suzie Brown are awesome educators. They are really thinking about ways to get people interested and excited about growing their own food,” Taylor said.

Initially, Taylor said all the garden stores shut down, so accessing seeds and edible plants was next to impossible.

But garden stores that sell food-producing plants and seeds are now considered essential services, so they are open for business.

Taylor said people may be surprised at the number of wild edible plants that grow in their own backyard, so Island Grown at Home made a video of a nature walk where they identified those plants and where to find them.

And many recipes pulled from Island Grown’s Harvest of the Month are going out in weekly newsletters to inspire people to not only cook wholesome and nutritious meals, but to have fun doing it.

“We like to provide lots of recipes to draw on and give some simple cooking tips,” Taylor said.

The huge surge in interest surrounding food production at home is “one of the most hopeful things happening right now,” Taylor said. 

“So many people are planting gardens. It’s something I hope we can continue even after this crisis,” she said.

She also said that, in a time when necessary access to food can feel uncertain or unsteady, growing food at home is a great way to ensure that families can have healthy food to eat.

And the mental and physical benefits to being outside in your own garden, Taylor said, are endless.

“There is nothing as healing as being outdoors in the natural world and developing such a close relationship with a little plot of land,” Taylor said. “Something we need in the big picture of environmental change is a closer connection with nature, and gardening is a wonderful way to nurture that relationship.”

Taylor said big industrial food supply chains are having a hard time adapting to the rapidly changing conditions of the current day. 

“Big industrial agriculture is not nimble. Dairy and meat production companies are used to being able to sell to wholesalers, then those wholesalers sell to grocery stores, schools, and other organizations,” Taylor said.

Regional and local food distribution hubs are, according to Taylor, one of the most promising and inspiring efforts to provide food security to the community.

“We need more localized food hubs, this is the food production and distribution system of the future,” Taylor said.

Visit the Island Grown Schools website to sign up for their newsletter, and access archived videos, resource lists, and more.