55Plus: Healthy Aging and IGI give garden kits to seniors

Digging in for Happiness Project.


Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard (HAMV) and Island Grown Initiative (IGI) are delivering at-home gardening kits to seniors so they can grow their own fresh produce.

HAMV executive director Cindy Trish was at IGI’s Farm Hub at Thimble Farm Monday to pack almost 50 brown paper bags with gardening supplies and send them off to seniors who signed up for the program.

Trish said the folks at IGI worked together to come up with a featured produce schedule for the garden kit — one week it might be carrots, the next week might be celery. This week, seniors will enjoy planting pea shoots.

According to Trish, “everyone needs a little bit of happiness, especially these days.” For seniors involved with the Councils on Aging (COA) and the Counseling, Outreach, and Referral for the Elderly (CORE) group at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, these little garden kits provide a whole lot of fulfillment and also education.

“It’s just so turnkey. Healthy Aging is funding this, but IGI has been incredible, and has contributed so much,” Trish said. “It’s something new and different for seniors to do, and that type of experience is hard to come by these days. A lot of people don’t have their own gardens, so this is a unique opportunity.”

The two organizations are able to deliver at least 10 garden kits per COA, and an additional number of kits for the CORE group. 

Education director for IGI, Emily Armstrong, worked together with her family at Thimble Farm to pack the bags with a planting tray, a bag of rich potting soil straight from the farm, a bag of pea shoot seeds, some spray bottles, and a detailed list of instructions for planting, growing, and harvesting your produce.

Armstrong said IGI is trying to take advantage of the at-home gardening boom, largely galvanized by the pandemic and the tenuous nature of the food supply chain.

“We want people to see that starting a garden at home can bring so much comfort and joy, that’s why we are calling it the Happiness Project,” Armstrong said. “Gardens add resilience and security to your home, and planting and growing your own produce from a seed is incredibly therapeutic.”

Armstrong said some seniors on-Island saw an article in The Times talking about at-home gardening kits, and were interested in getting some. 

For IGI, providing food education and food security to Islanders is a central goal, and Armstrong said that if everyone had their own produce and livestock, and locally sourced agriculture was the primary means of food production, that would be a true “food revolution.”

“Just imagine what it would look like if everyone had their own garden filled with fresh food grown right here on Martha’s Vineyard. I think, at the end of the day, that is where we are trying to get,” Armstrong said.

But, according to Armstrong, people on the Island have already gotten much more interested in raising their own livestock and growing their own produce. She said that last time she heard, there was a waitlist for chicks at SBS, and she has heard of lots of people starting their own backyard gardens who hadn’t had gardens in years past.

“The pandemic has created a lot of stress and anxiety surrounding food, especially when it comes to access and consistency,” Armstrong said. “At IGI, we are trying to alleviate that, and improve food access infrastructure.”

With such deeply rooted agricultural practices here, Armstrong said, there is a great opportunity for neighbors to help neighbors and encourage each other to get involved in self-sufficient food production.

“In this moment, when there is this incredible energy, we want to plant the seed of interest in people’s minds, and let it grow from there,” Armstrong said. “The pandemic has made people so much more isolated, especially for seniors. So we want to give them something enjoyable and rewarding to do, while also providing education.”

For seniors, going to the grocery store can be a safety issue, so Armstrong said stretching the amount of time between when you have to go shopping by eating home-grown produce is a great option.

Armstrong highlighted the importance of connecting with nature, and said it is never too late to start gardening. 

“You can do a really small garden, or a more involved operation. You can grow lettuce on your back porch, even into the fall,” Armstrong said.

Trish and Armstrong worked alongside HAMV volunteer Ann Charnley to load up her car so she could deliver the garden kits to seniors in Tisbury and West Tisbury. 

Charnley said that as a senior, she enjoys the opportunity to change up her schedule and volunteer when there isn’t much going on.

“It’s lots of fun to volunteer, especially when it’s for such a good cause and you have so much time on your hands,” Charnley said. 

Sandy Whitworth, activities director at the Tisbury COA, said that Project Happiness is providing seniors with a fun and engaging experience that they can do on their own, and all the elements of the initiative are made possible by local efforts. 

“It’s a nice way for seniors to occupy their time and watch something grow. They have to plant it, water it, and care for it,” Whitworth said.