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Unexpected Blooming: Garden in a Box Grows Through Pandemic

A photo of three people in action. Bob in a green shirt stands on a ladder lifting a shovel full of soil into a black cloth container held open by Marie in a blue shirt and her husband Chuck.
Bob, Chuck and Kim fill Library Garden containers with soil.

It's strange to think-a year and several months later- that there could be benefits to a world-wide pandemic. PRFC programs that relied on gatherings, Spice Drive cooking, frequent and long visits with homebound seniors and face-to-face meetings all paused. The pandemic was like a big thumb pressing a large red STOP button on all that we knew, individually, collectively and as an organization. No easily identifiable silver linings by any means! And our organization was not alone. By now it has been clearly documented that many organizations had to swiftly and creatively problem solve and pivot to meet the unexpected demands and precautions that the pandemic necessitated. PR Food Center's program "Garden in a Box" in particular experienced a huge pause that transformed into a revival none of us could imagine when we were forced to stop operating as we knew how.

Garden in a Box was a fresh pilot program and just beginning to make its public debut in March of 2020. Our intention of public learning sessions and gatherings each month that corresponded to the learning material in the Garden in a Box Resource Binders had to change. Our method of communicating with planners, hosting planting days with Gardeners and Garden Coaches and implementing home visits to Gardeners had to shift. But how?

During the winter, Erin, Trisha and Merrilee met to discuss the program and figure out if it was possible to revive it in a Covid-safe way in 2021. We knew we wanted a public component to share with people that weren't signed up for the immersive experience of being a Gardener matched to a Garden Coach. We also knew that the strain of the pandemic made regular meetings and what typically felt manageable, totally unmanageable and unsafe. So we made the decision to keep our circle small, while still periodically updating our planners. We decided to pull inwards.

It was this reflex that completely shifted the way we approached the program. With this inward orientation, we were able to look at the program from a totally different angle. We incubated, "sheltered in place" so to speak, and considered what existing resources we could draw from that were safe, complimentary to our original vision and doable. Scaling down and starting anew is something that can feel frustrating, because of the departure from a Plan A. And yet, what we discovered was that this conscious action created a space to reorganize and a space of relief. Plan B had actually started to root and has now bloomed!

Erin, the creative mind that she is, had the idea to connect the program's public component to libraries. Libraries are already existing sources of information for community members. It seemed natural, and mutually beneficial then to create additional Garden in a Box Library Binders for a Spring Library Display in April. We promote the libraries, the libraries promote Garden in a Box. Trisha, another creative and idea generator, wondered about getting gardens to the libraries. After-all, if libraries are to be a source of even one to two visitors, having the spark of fresh veggies, a signal of regional gardening traditions and metaphorical meaning in "growing" seemed appropriate.

Organically, the community net that we were concerned about actually widened due to our organization shift and program-centered reflex, a movement shaped by pandemic parameters. Going small, allowed us to grow our program larger.

In a time where the program had to pause, and there was real risk of stagnation, it was an unexpected surprise to see such a robust revival. We engaged libraries and their patrons this season, increased the number of Garden Coaches, and provided Gardeners from 2020 the real hands-on experience the program was intended to offer. We met the same goals we had originally envisioned despite the pandemics' big red stop button. Garden in a Box grew all the more and changed ultimately for the better.

To sign up to be a Gardener for 2022 head over to our Garden in a Box website page.

Peek at our Instagram page or Facebook to follow along with 2021 Garden in a Box News!

A color-clad Gardener plants in her container with support from her Garden Coach.
Two women mid-planting on a sunny day placing plants into large black cloth containers. Blue watering can, other seedlings and trowels are strewn about the workspace.
Gardeners were finally able to experience hands-on planting and socializing with their Garden Coaches.

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