This article originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Northern Gardener.
In 2013, the Bemidji Community Food Shelf (BCFS) needed more fresh fruits and vegetables for its clients, so supporters took matters into their own hands. In collaboration with community partners, they started a farm with three goals:
- Provide high quality, fresh produce for food-shelf clients and their families
- Teach sustainable gardening skills to food-shelf families
- Provide community members the chance to contribute their time and talents
The farm produced 5,500 pounds of beautiful homegrown produce in its first year.
However, obstacles kept them from fulfilling their other goals. Transportation and time barriers kept clients from learning gardening skills or contributing their talents at the farm. So in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Extension SNAP-Ed program, BCFS applied to be a part of the MSHS Garden-in-a-Box program. What has sprouted since is remarkable.
In 2015, 10 boxes from the Garden-in-a-Box program doubled the 10 garden boxes built by BCFS going to low-income housing complexes. This enabled 20 families using the food shelf to garden in their own backyards. The boxes were so popular that in 2016, BCFS purchased 10 more from MSHS to expand the program. This past growing season, 25 boxes gave 81 people (54 of them children) the opportunity to grow their own food.
“One gardener loves to plant and eat fresh veggies right out of the garden,” says Lin James, the program’s garden coordinator. “Kids love planting day!” The program uses the veggies in cooking classes taught by Deb Dilley, an extension educator, to demonstrate healthy eating and self-sufficiency. All involved look forward to 2017!