Barton Community College Upward Bound program students and Director Kelsey Hall were overwhelmed Thursday when they arrived at the campus garden. While they were expecting to go to work planting a number of donated plants, the outpouring of donations the college was to receive for the expansion of the garden was more than they had imagined. It was all made possible thanks to the “Grow more. Feed more,” initiative between Bonnie Plants and the non-profit Ample Harvest.org to encourage home gardeners to grow and donate food to area food banks, much like the victory gardens of World War I.
Toby Lee is a station manager with Bonnie Plants. He operates the Plainville station where the company grows vegetable plants that are shipped to big box stores throughout Kansas every week. When his company and Ample Harvest.org decided to expand the initiative outside of their companies, he contacted Patrick Busch, the Director of the Central Kansas Upward Bound program at Barton County Community College, because the campus food bank is registered with Ample Harvest.org. Ample Harvest.org digitally promotes and encourages the reduction of food waste by linking home gardeners to local food banks that accept fresh produce. They can donate what they can’t use at home, instead of disposing of it or leaving it to rot in the field.
The “Grow more. Feed More,” collaboration with Ample Harvest.org began a few months ago as the country began to react to the pandemic, he said. It started with an internal initiative to grow and donate plants as food pantries across the country began seeing an increased demand from Americans grappling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, people were also looking for ways to help those less fortunate. The idea of empowering home gardeners to grow more food to donate to food banks, which typically have little access to fresh produce, was hit upon. It’s a mission that speaks to Lee’s heart.
“There have been a few times in my life when I’ve had to turn to a food bank for help, and people in my family have too,” he said. “This seemed like the perfect time to get involved and give back.”
Lee explained the program to Busch who invited him to visit the college.
“Toby Lee has done pretty much everything to make this possible,” Busch said. “He came to campus in May and took a look at our garden and came up with this plan.”
In 2018, the Upward Bound program broke ground on a garden to help supplement the food bank and to serve as a service project for Upward Bound students. Typically, students in the program reside on campus for part of the summer, something that is not happening this year due to COVID-19. Normally, students can opt to be part of the garden crew and help tend and harvest from the garden during the summer.
When Lee visited, he learned about the soil issues of the garden, and about the buried utility lines that kept the college from expanding the garden. He suggested raised beds could be the answer, and began making calls.
Soon, the Home Depot stores in Hays and Hutchinson, as well as the Lowe’s store in Hutchinson had agreed to donate lumber and supplies to build numerous raised beds, as well as hoses, soaker hoses, timers, gloves, spades and shovels.
Bonnie Plants donated all the plants for the new raised beds, and Scott’s Miracle Gro agreed to provide two pallets of soil and fertilizer to fill the beds.
Kelsey Hall, director with Barton County Upward Bound recorded a live video at the garden site for the college’s facebook page on Wednesday. Last week, the college received the first part of the overall donation, which included 60 two-by-twelve boards and posts for building raised beds with. The student leadership committee made up of juniors and seniors at Hoisington and Great Bend High Schools spent the first part of the week building raised beds.
In the spring, students planted red and gold potatoes, red, white and yellow onions, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, habanero peppers, spaghetti squash, zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes in the previously established garden. This year, the students also started an herb plot, and some basic culinary herbs are ready to begin harvesting.
“It’s a nice way to learn how to make a garden,” one of the students, said. “Many of us don’t have gardens at home.”
Boxes in two heights, shorter ones that can be accessed by children at the campus day care, and taller ones for students and faculty, were loaded onto a forklift Thursday afternoon, and transported to the garden sight where they were arranged by Hall and the students. They were filled with a mixture of topsoil and Miracle Gro garden soil courtesy of representatives of Scott’s who were contacted by Lee.
Bonnie Plants dropped off two towers filled with flats of vegetable plants, the wholesale value estimated around $1,600. They included a variety of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, several herbs, rhubarb, okra and more.
Once the soil was leveled in a couple of the beds, Lee provided the students with some hands on instruction about how to properly plant the tomatoes, and students went to work.
Ultimately, Hall said, there will be six short and six tall raised beds. There will be lumber left over, and the college is considering reaching out to other community groups to see if they could use some raised gardens as well.
Produce will be made available for students and faculty through college email. Hall also plans to can salsa and pickles and other items later this summer for purchase at the college. Each year, proceeds go to purchase plants and seed to keep the garden going the following year, she said.
“Usually, we don’t harvest very much, but with these additions, we’re going to need to look outside the college to see who else we can share with,” she said.
Learn more about the “Grow more. Feed more,” initiative at (https://bonnieplants.com/gardening/grow-more-feed-more/).