Among the newest partners of Americans Helping Americans® is Sprouting Hope located in the small town of Marion, Virginia, a community garden-based nonprofit organization dedicated to feeding people in their rural Appalachian community by growing and sharing healthy produce, with the vision of everyone having access to nutritious food.
Sprouting Hope operates a 14,000-square-foot community garden with 72 beds for annual production along with perennial crops such as blueberries and asparagus, along with two 40 foot by 12 foot hoophouses to extend the growing season.
“The garden has no private plots,” says program coordinator Mandy Hart. “Instead, the entire space is shared. All food is delivered free throughout the community including to USDA-certified food pantries and the local soup kitchen.
“We aim to reach people receiving food assistance, the offerings of which typically lack fresh, nutrient-dense produce. Our goal is to empower low-income members of our community by helping them get outside, eat healthier, and learn about how food is grown.”
Last summer, Mandy approached Americans Helping Americans® with a request for grant funding to implement its Homegrown program to provide financial and educational support for families to start and maintain their own home gardens for their own use and/or sale at local farmers markets.
And thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, through the program, this spring these budding gardeners were provided with tools, materials, tilling services, and technical support throughout the growing season to be able to successfully manage their gardens. In addition to monthly classes, Mandy told us she would make regular on-site consultations with participating families.
This June, Mandy reported on the success of the Homegrown program telling us that they have started vegetable gardens at the homes of nine families.
“Many of the participants have said that having a garden has offered them a sense of purpose during the pandemic, as well as the financial and emotional security of knowing they can provide for themselves,” said Mandy.
Among the major program accomplishments, this spring were the tilling and fencing of nine in-ground and raised garden beds, the distribution of tools, seeds and seedlings and other necessary gardening materials, the presentation of an in-person and three virtual classes on gardening topics and socially-distant home visits to help guide families through the gardening process.
She described the most effective part of the program was its personalization – “the size and flexibility of this program has allowed us to customize our support for each participating family to meet their specific needs and desires.”
But that doesn’t mean they had an easy time of it.
“COVID-19 and the weather were the two main challenges for the spring,” she reported. “For example, we all started seeds together at the high school greenhouse, but then weren’t able to meet again to transplant them, and the unusually cold, wet weather meant that they stayed in their trays longer than they should have before planting.”
However, “thankfully, we have still been able to accomplish everything we’ve planned,” she noted. “Classes moved online, garden visits have been from afar, and the weather has finally taken a turn for the better.
“For the seedlings, the horticulture teacher generously helped transplant them when the participants couldn’t, and we started prepping the gardens a bit early, so by the time we finished it still wasn’t too late.”
As for the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, Mandy would like them to know:
“The support of Americans Helping Americans® donors has allowed us to bring a bright spot to the lives of nine families in a very dark time. The gardens these families are starting this year will last them a very long time, and change their lives for the better.”
And Homegrown participant Tessa added: “I feel so fortunate to be a part of this wonderful garden program!
“I wanted my own garden for many years, but I just didn’t know how to tackle it. Mandy came right in and helped me get started. She has been an excellent guide, and has made sure I have everything I need to be successful.
“I can’t wait to see what the harvest has to offer!”