Grow Your Own Garden Program Feeds Local Families

By Jenevra Wetmore

Sustainable Woodstock’s Program Coordinator Heather Knoll holds a full set of seedlings ready for a local family.

This spring marked the fifth year of Sustainable Woodstock’s Grow Your Own Garden Program. The program distributes beginner Grow Your Own Garden (GYOG) kits free of charge to individuals and families who want to produce their own food. Each free kit includes a complete set of quality seeds, seedlings, and a beginner’s book on organic gardening. This program is open to families who would not otherwise be able to afford to garden. This year’s distribution took place on June 2nd and provided free gardening kits to 90 families in 27 towns across the Upper Valley. The gardens grown by program recipients will feed over 300 people this season.

Sustainable Woodstock began the GYOG Program in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic created a 33% rise in the number of families experiencing food insecurity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as, “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Vermonters who live rurally, live with a disability, with incomes below the poverty line, are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), and/or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+) are more likely to be food insecure.

Since COVID, Vermont has continued to see high rates of food insecurity. Two in five people (40 percent) in Vermont reported experiencing hunger and food insecurity during 2022– the highest rates ever recorded, according to studies carried out by UVM researchers. In May 2023 the Federal Public Health Emergency ended, which also ended temporary pandemic SNAP benefits. Then came the July 2023 floods, which only added to the financial difficulties experienced by many low-income Upper Valley residents.

The Grow Your Own Garden program is just one of the ways that Sustainable Woodstock is working to address food insecurity on the ground. We run two community gardens at Billings Farm and King Farm in partnership with Billings Farm and the Vermont Land Trust. These gardens serve over 30 families and organizations and plots are available to the public on a sliding scale, which means that anyone can have access to space to grow a garden. We have dedicated growing space at our Billings Garden to produce vegetables and herbs for the Woodstock Community Food Shelf, tended by our Community Garden Coordinator Amy Wheeler–we have delivered over 40 pounds of rhubarb to the Food Shelf already this spring.

Sustainable Woodstock also helps build and maintain raised garden beds alongside individual mobile homes at Riverside Mobile Home Park. For the past three years we have worked with park resident and carpenter Dan Putnam and his brother Josh Putnam, who build the wooden beds, to provide Riverside residents the opportunity to grow a garden free of charge. We also provide the soil, seeds, and plants to fill the beds. This year Dan and Josh built 19 beds for Riverside residents– a record number. Al Pristaw, a park resident who passed away this past February, was instrumental in getting this program off the ground three years ago and would be thrilled to see how many beds we have provided to the Riverside community this year.

Many thanks to our community for making this work possible, including our 2024 Grow Your Own Garden sponsors: Vermont Community Foundation and Resilience Hub/BALE. Our partners include: Sherburne Farms, Yankee Bookshop, Vital Communities, Liliphant, Vermont Food Bank, Woodstock Community Food Shelf, and West Lebanon Feed & Supply.


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