Eat a Rainbow

A new online gardening program for the community called Deep Roots Mason County recently started. Kendra Gibson from the Michigan State University Extension, Kate Lietz and Christine Schulte with Lakeshore Food Club are spearheading the program along with others from the area who are passionate about gardening and food security.

KENDRA GIBSON | Courtesy photo

A new gardening program called Deep Roots Mason County arrived in time for the start of the growing season.

After the children’s gardening program, Eat a Rainbow, through the Michigan State University Extension and Lakeshore Food Club was canceled for this year because of the pandemic, leaders decided to start a new group for the whole community.

“We came up with this virtual opportunity. I think it meets a need for people to connect during this time and feel like they are part of a community again,” said Kendra Gibson, community nutrition instructor at MSU Extension. “I think it will be good for people’s mental health, nutrition and skill building.”

MSU Extension, Lakeshore Food Club and LiveWell Mason County Food Council partnered with local gardeners and farmers to launch the online program.

People can participate through interacting on the Facebook page called Deep Roots Mason County. The program is giving free Grab and Go Garden Kits to those who register using the form posted on the Facebook page.

Three types of kits are available with different seeds — “Salad Garden,” “Bountiful Garden” or “Herb and Flower Garden.” A limited number of kits are available to pick up on May 22 and 26 at the food club. People do not have to use a seed kit to participate.

More than 100 people have registered for kits and more than 200 people have liked the Facebook page since it went live last Friday, Gibson reported.

“I think people are excited. They’re ready to get outside and get their hands dirty. There is a quote I heard that says, we think we are nurturing the garden, but really it’s the garden that’s nurturing us,” she said.

Each week the Facebook page will be updated with video lessons, advice from local growers and other resources such as book recommendations.

“We will be building a foundation so people can be confident and not fearful of making a mistake. We are all learning together,” Gibson said.

Participants are encouraged to post questions, advice and photos of their gardens as they grow. The leaders are also looking into doing virtual tours of local orchards and farms.

“I posted on the Facebook page a question — what does gardening mean to you this summer? It was fascinating because food is tied to our memories, our families, our emotions and empowerment of independence. It was very fun just to go through those comments and see what is drawing people to it this summer. I think people are much more aware of food this year,” Gibson said.

The program is for all experience levels. Any age group can participate and Gibson hopes families with children will get involved.

“With the social distancing and families at home more, we feel like gardening is a really good opportunity for them to have a shared project, get outside, be active and creative,” she said. “When children grow their own food they are more likely to try (eating) what they grow.”

Lakeshore Food Club will have raised beds added to its garden area to use as a “virtual classroom” to match the seed kits, she said.

“We hope it helps the food club too,” Gibson said.

People can donate the produce they grow through the food club’s Grow A Row program.

There will also be drawings for prizes such as colanders, zucchini spiralizers and gardening gloves during the summer.

“We want to keep it light and fun. At the end we might ask additional questions about what people learned and how this situation has changed food for them in terms of COVID-19 and resources being tighter for a lot of people,” she said.

Two grants made Deep Roots possible — $400 from the Margaret Shaw Memorial through the Community Foundation for Mason County and $500 from the Gro More Good Grassroots Grant by KidsGardening.org. The leaders also used a {span}$250 award from the Johns Hopkins University Food Policy Networks 2019 photo contest from a picture submitted from the Eat a Rainbow program.{/span}