PICTURED: The home page of the Million Gardens Movement, featuring legendary actor Harrison Ford who lent his voice of support for the non-profit’s project to put a garden in every American home.
A charitable food initiative organized between an education non-profit and an online gardening magazine is trying to get a garden into the hands of every American who wants one.
Whether perched on a windowsill, blocking a fire-escape, or resting on a lawn, Big Green and Modern Farmer think that the more people who grow their own food, the better our society will become.
Principally, Million Gardens Movement (MGM) wants to create communities of seasoned gardeners that want to contribute their knowledge and support to budding gardeners. For just $10, MGM will put a small transportable micro-gardening booth in the hands of someone who wants to start growing their own food, but who can’t perhaps afford it.
Furthermore, that $10 can also go towards equipping a school with a Learning Garden, as part of Big Green’s ongoing education initiative to grow a new generation of gardeners that will have the tools to reduce food scarcity, particularly in cities.
The overall goal is to put 1 million gardens into American households by the end of 2020, and to drive response, MGM have recruited celebrities like Harrison Ford, Zoey Deschanel, and Salma Hayek to help drum up social media support.
“When we launched Modern Farmer (magazine) eight years ago, it was founded on a hunch that more people wanted to learn about where their food came from and how it could best be grown,” says Frank Giustra, Owner and Publisher of Modern Farmer. “We’ve been checking in and seeing what readers were connecting with: during the pandemic, we saw a massive uptick in readership of gardening articles”.
Indeed, at least in Canada, a whopping 50% of the population were growing their own food during the pandemic through one means or another.
“When COVID hit last spring and schools closed, we transformed our school Learning Gardens into Giving Gardens,” explains Kimbal Musk, the Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Big Green, who happens to be Elon Musk’s brother.
“School communities came together to keep the Learning Gardens growing so that the fresh garden food could be donated back to the community to combat widespread hunger happening in the underserved communities”.
As Giustra and Musk found the pandemic highlighted the incredible fragility and gaping flaws in the food industry and supply chains, they teamed up to create MGM as a way to combat this fragility, and to bring more independence and resilience to under-served neighborhoods, particularly in major cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis.
Plant a seed day
The official launch of the initiative happened over the weekend when winter turned to spring, a special time that Giustra detailed garnered a special response.
“We’ve been so humbled by the overwhelmingly positive response and the passion surrounding our mission,” he told WaL. So far 7,275 new gardens, at the time of writing, have been created, 5,000 of which were paid for by donations, and 632 have ended up in schools.
Both the charitable and educational aspects came to a head due to a spate of cold weather that’s lingered around many parts of the country this year.
“…just because the calendar says it’s spring doesn’t mean it’s always warm outside the continent,” said Giustra. “There’s been a lot of snow this year, so we had to advise many new gardeners on starting seeds inside while appreciating the frozen soil outside”.
“We hope that together, the Million Gardens community can come together and give millions of people Little Green Gardens so they may grow food on their window box, fire escape, patio or their backyard,” adds Musk. “Little Green Gardens are compact container gardens suitable for small growing spaces. They come with a customized growing plan and online lessons and activities to support the growing of culturally relevant at-home veggie gardens”.
Growing a solution
As has been reported for decades, America isn’t blessed with a tremendously healthy food industry. The rapid increase in population and access to refrigeration since the 1950s has driven the cost of food down considerably, but now decades of eating heavily processed foods and those laden with sugar have left many people sick, and unaware of how to change their eating habits.
This could not be better captured than by a study from Johns Hopkins University which showed the United States could save more than 30,000 lives and $5 billion in medical spending each year if Americans ate just one more serving of fruits and vegetables a day.
“Humans have been growing their own food for thousands of years, but it seems many have lost that connection in just a couple of short generations,” theorizes Giustra. “Most of the damage caused by modern food culture is being inflicted upon poorer and more marginalized communities, driven by ultra-processed foods and fast food”.
Without the necessary income to spend on healthy foods like meat and fresh vegetables, supermarkets pass these communities by, resulting in the dreaded “food desert” which can leave some houses a mile or more from the nearest place to buy a bunch of carrots.
According to the Journal of Extension, the average home vegetable garden produces $677 worth of fruits and vegetables every year, not only significantly reducing the cost of groceries, but increasing the nutritional quality of the food.
“The proliferation of fast food restaurants and packaged food has created a massive disconnect that is hitting low income communities the hardest,” adds Musk. “Gardens are the very best way to teach kids and have a lasting impact”.
The MGM blog is filled to the brim with gardening tips and guides, boiling the essentials of the world’s second-oldest profession down to levels that can serve any readers.
“We are building a community of people who love gardening – whether you tend an acre or have a lone pot on your fire escape, the Million Gardens Movement is creating a culture shift around gardening and the value of growing your own food,” said Giustra in a press release.