Last year was my first season as a dedicated backyard gardener, and despite being a newbie, I had a really good harvest. Maybe 2021 was beginner’s luck, or it could’ve been the good karma I sowed by supporting Springfield’s Willamalane Park and Recreation’s gardening program.
Called the Gardening Resources & Opportunities with Willamalane (GROW), Willamalane sells gardening kits — which include everything you need to start a garden — and raises money from it to make gardening more accessible for local households.
Willamalane spokesperson Kenny Weigandt tells me via email that GROW began in 2020 when the agency had to close many programs and facilities because of COVID-19.
“As our community was quarantining, a team of Willamalane employees throughout the district wanted to provide a safe, healthy activity for families in quarantine, and gardening was identified as an activity we could support,” he says. “These gardening kits could be pre-ordered and picked up using a contactless drive-through system.”
The goal of the program was to make the gardening boxes small enough to fit in any home garden and be as affordable as possible. It was a success, he says, and the agency brought it back in 2021.
And that was the year I gave it a try. It was my first season as a backyard gardener, and I paid around $90 for a 6-foot by 3-foot box from the park agency. That covered more than just a box frame. The agency also provided several sacks of organic soil and locally sourced seeds. But be warned that you do have to pick this all up.
And let me tell you, the Willamalane garden bed, fertilizer and seeds were magical. That bed yielded my A-team produce, including a seemingly never-ending supply of cucumbers and zucchini, a good thing for a household that runs mostly on vegetables.
Willamalane funds the project and sets the price for the garden kits so it can break even on the materials, Weigandt says. Customers can donate an extra $10 to have the garden bed frame assembled by volunteers and that money goes toward a scholarship that provides gardening kits for local households. (I did because I’m lazy but also giving.)
“Using this fund, we partner with local nonprofits in Springfield to distribute kits to families in need,” Weigandt says. “Last year, we worked with Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC) and donated five complete kits to them. Then, they used their connections to distribute them on our behalf.”
CALC was chosen in 2021, he adds, because it supported Willamalane’s mission of diversity, equity and inclusion. For 2022, the agency is splitting the scholarships with two groups. One is the Keystone in Eugene, which is permanent supportive housing for at-risk unhoused families. The other is Hayden Bridge Landing, a public housing conversion in Springfield with services from Homes for Good.
People can reserve GROW kits through May while supplies last. Visit Willamalane.org/grow for more information. Three-foot by 3-foot kit is $65 for in-district residents, $78 for out-of-district; 6-foot by 3-foot kit is $85 for in-district residents, $102 for out-of-district.
This article has been updated to reflect the changed deadline and the 2022 recipients of the scholarships.