Outstanding Commitment Awards: Q & A

1000 New Gardens Montana

Since 1986, Montana's Missoula County has lost an average of three football fields of working farmland every day. The Montana Environmental Student Alliance (MESA) has an innovative solution to this problem: 1,000 New Gardens Montana (1kng), a project that supports Montana households in planting organic vegetable gardens. The project was awarded an Outstanding Commitment Award, which will be used to buy seeds and fund a tool shed located next to Bozeman City Hall, a site where 25 garden spaces are located. Zachary Brown, a University of Montana student studying environmental science, discussed the benefits of the project and its future goals.

How does 1,000 New Gardens Montana operate?

We like to promote what we call the "100-Foot Diet," where people can literally walk into their backyard and pick fresh, healthy produce to eat. We reach out to people who don't have the resources or knowledge to create their own garden and walk them through the process of setting up a garden space. We work with them at the beginning of the process, bringing in volunteers with shovels and composted manure to tear up and replace the grass in their yard. This leaves them with a rectangular garden space that is ready for planting. With the OCA funding, we are hoping to expand our organization to target lower-income populations and people who are regular customers at the local food banks with additional services, supporting them through the planting and harvesting of their gardens.

Where did the inspiration for 1,000 New Gardens Montana come from?

1,000 New Gardens is a project that I've been working on for the past 18 months with my friend Max Smith, the founder and driving force behind 1kng. The idea originated during a conversation between Max and a friend, who was formerly head of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. Part of the discussion related to the loss of agricultural land in the Missoula Valley, which has happened due to population growth and development. Montana communities were increasingly being covered with lawn and fallow, which can be harmful to the environment because of the fertilizers that are used and the water that is wasted. They thought some of this space could better be used for urban gardens, which use water more efficiently and provide fresh produce for families. 1kng was the resulting idea, and it has really taken off. We are proud to say that we have already set up about 120 gardens.

How does the Montana Environmental Student Alliance (MESA) secure the resources needed to start these gardens?

Our funding so far has come from a partner organization, the Montana Yellowstone Expeditions Foundation. We have used our funding to distribute seeds to new farmers and help set up the garden spaces for community members. We are looking into partnerships with two local food banks to set up permanent positions for people to oversee the implementation and follow-up of the gardens planted in the 1kng Montana project. These positions will be funded by the AmeriCorps and Campus Corps offices at Montana State University. We are also going to implement a garden sponsorship model that will engage our community, where an $80 contribution will sponsor a 4x8 foot raised garden bed for a low-income family that needs fresh produce.

How are the locations for these gardens decided upon?

Over the past 18 months, we have been almost completely indiscriminate to whom we offer our services. We have gotten members through word-of-mouth, email lists, our website, and Facebook. Now that we have established ourselves, we plan on focusing our efforts on low-income community members. We are working on starting an outreach program with local elementary schools that serve lower-income populations, where we will teach students about composting and gardening in hopes that they will start their own gardens with their families.

What benefits will the individuals and organizations who own the land receive from these gardens?

These individuals and organizations that we work with can now avoid the high costs of healthy food, and will harvest fresh, organic produce that they themselves have planted. They will also have guidance and support in creating and maintaining their gardens. We've already set up an interactive website for gardeners to ask questions and exchange ideas and resources. All gardeners who receive our services are required to contribute one blog post per month, and have actually been pretty faithful in following through. We've seen that when given the resources and opportunities, people really take ownership and pride in their gardens-one of the biggest benefits for us at 1kng.

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