Little free gardens have made a name for themselves across the country—and right here in Bonners Ferry thanks to the wonderful community and their generosity and support.
Gardeners for Regional Organic Wellbeing, also known as GROW!, is a local nonprofit organization whose missions is to help in supporting and expanding the local food system and encourage sustainable agricultural methods here in Boundary County. Unfortunately, GROW! has found itself struggling to maintain enough volunteers to maintain its community garden, located on the grounds of Trinity Lutheran Church. Here, they rent out garden plots, grow organic produce for the community and teach gardening methods with the help of the University of Idaho Extension and the UI Master Gardener program.
“We thought if we could take little gardens out to visible sites in the community, we could increase awareness of what we do,” says Kate Painter, Agricultural Extension educator for University of Idaho. “I thought, ‘We could be like the Little Free Libraries.’ Then I found out that I was not the first to have this idea and, in fact, there was already a Little Free Garden movement in the country!”
To help fund the project, Kate submitted a grant for $2,500 to the City of Bonners Ferry through their High Five! project, which is sponsored by Blue Cross of Idaho's Foundation for Health. “High Five! works with communities to promote healthy eating and physical activity for Idaho’s children,” says Kate. “The grant stipulates that we focus on growing food, as opposed to ornamentals, in these little free gardens.”
In May of this year, GROW! received the grant funds, and by June, 20 planters had been installed around town. The GROW! team worked hard to find sponsors who were interested in tending to a little free garden at their business location, buy planters, soil and plants, and put them in place around town, according to Kate.
Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of the community, GROW was able to install many more little free gardens than they thought was possible. Smiling, Kate says, “Tom Bushnell was so excited about the project that he provided his own planter, complete with vegetables, himself. Seth Thomas, at Live Edge Productions, donated a large number of seedlings for this project, including his heirloom tomatoes and peppers that he raises from seed and sells at his place of business each year. The Nest and Under the Sun also purchased their own planters and provided soil, and Carter Country donated a flat of strawberries to the project.”
According to Kate, the businesses and other sponsors who were interested in participating in GROW!’s grant-funded project were asked to submit an application. In turn, participants agreed to water these little gardens. UI Extension Master Gardeners as well as GROW! organization members (most of whom are also UI Extension Master Gardeners) have been the ones helping set up and maintain these gardens as well. “We would be interested in partnering with anyone who wants to help create more gardens or donate planters, plants and material for this project,” affirms Kate.
Through these little free gardens, produce grown during the summer has included tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, pepper plants, peas, basil, stevia, edible flowers, a variety of herbs, edible flowers and pole beans. “We are in the process of replacing some of the earlier lettuce plants with short season carrots, beets, peas, kale and fall lettuce,” says Kate. “Many people don’t know about succession planting for fall crops.”
And the most incredible part of these little free gardens is that the fresh, organic produce is free to the community to enjoy. All that is asked is that those taking from the garden select just a small sample of the produce, such as a tomato, a pepper or two, some herbs for your meal that night. Kate adds that The Little Free Garden at the GROW! Community Garden consists of a perennial herb bed, which has a large quantity of herbs including dill, oregano, basil, tarragon and thyme; enough to provide herbs for dozens of families.
The goal of GROW!’s little free gardens, according to Kate, is this: “By installing these free gardens around town, I hope more people in our community will become interested in growing their own food and in eating more locally grown produce. I hope our children will become interested in the magic of gardening and learn to love fresh garden produce. I also hope that we will be able to get more volunteers involved with GROW!, so we can continue to expand our impact in the community.”
Those interested in participating in this national project can set up a Little Free Garden for their community and register it on their website, LittleFreeGarden.com. It costs $33 to register your garden, and you’ll and receive a kit that includes a metal Little Free Garden placard, a Little Free Garden sticker and other materials.