I spent the morning recently checking on a garden for refugee children-of-war. The last time I saw it was maybe six weeks ago, and I was nervous to see it again. We had not created the garden with Farmer D products due to budgetary constraints, although we did top it off with enough Farmer D nourishment to get through a decent spring harvest. It had been performing poorly since then. Summer seeds didn’t germinate. Tomato plants were stunted. Cucumber leaves curled. It was just plain old sad and demoralizing, and we lost the summer crops completely.
We eventually did a soil test, added the needed organic amendments, and tossed a cover crop mix from Farmer D Organics that included buckwheat, cow peas, and millet to add organic matter and nutrients. People watered, and before long I heard that the cover crops were growing, but I hadn’t seen it. I have recently experienced a couple of other situations where gardens in which we had “saved money” by skimping on “the good stuff” (Farmer D’s) resulted in reduced germination, growth, and yields, so when I opened the gate to the garden that morning, I held my breath. The picture above is what I saw. Abundant. Green. Healthy. Robust. The students will now turn under the cover crops, let them decompose for two weeks so soil organisms can feed off them and excrete nutrients that are then usable by fall crops. They’ll top it all off with Farmer D Organics planting mix and custom-blended fertilizer and then plant a wide variety of lettuces, cooking greens, herbs, and root crops. And then this garden will be back in business.
Listen, I know that money is often (if not always) an issue, and I know personally what it’s like trying to fund new gardens as well as keep them happy and productive season after season. What I have discovered, however, is that, in many cases, it is most likely worth the extra effort to raise a little extra money and get enough of “the good stuff” rather than cut corners. When I do that, I have a more satisfying gardening experience, volunteers flock to our successful projects, donors like to give to vibrant gardens, and we can all get on with the work at hand (growing delicious, healthy food) rather than spending all our time trying to “fix” the soil. This is not to say that learning how to create your own balanced soil is not a necessary learning experience–it’s just that it can take years and perhaps might be a better fit for a demonstration bed rather than for all the beds in a learning garden or one that feeds the hungry where more immediate results are desired, or one in a highly public space where aesthetics matter (such as a community garden in a city park) where healthy growth just plain old looks better.
I talked with Greg Padgett at the store recently about some of the successful fundraising efforts he has seen at the school and special project gardens that he installs and maintains for Farmer D Organics. He suggests:
* Check out garden grants, such as from Whole Foods’ Whole Kids Foundation, The Captain Planet Foundation, and others. There is an ever-growing list of them easily accessible online (simply search for school or community garden grants). Typically, you will have more success in obtaining a garden grant if you already have your garden started and you have proof of volunteer support and matching funds. I know, I know, it’s a little chicken-and-egg, but maybe try one of the following ideas first to actually get your garden going, and pursue grants to continue or expand it.
* Ask local businesses to sponsor your garden, perhaps by paying to fund a bed and having their company name displayed on it;
* Ask parents to donate, perhaps by “purchasing” a brick or stepping stone in the garden;
* Hold fun runs and other fundraisers for the garden such as selling something garden-related like GrowUms seed kits (the school makes 50% of the price on each one sold);
* If your school encourages “planned giving” as part of estate planning, encourage legacy gifts for the garden from grandparents of students and alumni. See an example of a school’s planned giving communications here;
* See if your PTA or any companies where parents work offer matching funds;
* Consider raising money by renting plots to the community as part of your school garden.
In addition to whatever communications methods you currently use, be sure to use social media to ask for donations and encourage people to ask others in their networks to donate as well. You’ll be surprised when someone’s uncle in Peoria or friend in Portland is happy to donate! Keep your request upbeat and exciting, inspire confidence that you can achieve the objectives defined, and make paying easy by including an online payment option such as Paypal. Be sure to keep communications going with photos and updates about your garden’s success (consider starting a blog, or having the students do this) because, let’s face it, you’ll most likely need to ask again if you want to be able to keep getting “the good stuff.” And, you know what? It’s worth it.
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