Interest in home gardening has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the Food Hero team at Oregon State University Extension Service is offering Oregonians a unique opportunity to grow vegetables and fruits at home.
Food Hero, a social marketing campaign that empowers families to make food choices that are healthy, fun and tasty, is spearheading the Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge. According to Mandy Hatfield, Extension educator in Douglas County, the challenge invites individuals, schools and community groups to come together to plant seeds and grow Oregon’s health and food supply.
Anyone can join using their own seeds, but the first 3,000 Oregonians who sign up will be mailed a free packet of vegetable and fruit seeds with four varieties like tomatoes, carrots, melons, strawberries and herbs.
Throughout summer and into fall, participants will receive a Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge email each month with gardening information, harvest recipes and storage tips. Challenge information will also be available in English and Spanish on the Food Hero gardening page. Participants can click on images of seeds and read detailed planting directions. Once they harvest their produce, gardeners can find more than 300 recipes using vegetables and fruits on the Food Hero website.
Register for the challenge on the website or on the Food Hero Facebook page, where anyone can view weekly Facebook Live gardening segments Tuesdays at noon. Questions will be answered by AmeriCorps volunteer Halie Cousineau, a seasoned gardener who has starred in 12 gardening videos that are posted on the website. More are on the way.
“We think this is a great way to build on the enthusiasm that Oregonians have shown for Master Gardener and Food Hero gardening opportunities through OSU Extension,” said Sally Bowman, Family and Community Health associate program leader. “Fostering skill building in home gardening increases food security and offers a family activity when many of us are spending more time at home.”
More than 90,000 seeds were donated by Bi-Mart in Roseburg. Four Douglas County Food Hero Extension educators, Cousineau, and Hatfield’s school-aged daughter have separated every seed by hand into plastic baggies.
“That’s not a small amount of seeds,” Hatfield said. “It’s the hugest bucket ever!”
Cousineau, who was in charge of starting Douglas County’s school gardening programs, has contacted local schools so that the registration link can be sent to students. This link will be shared with schools throughout Oregon by Food Hero Extension educators.
Funding for labeling and mailing services was provided by the Oregon Department of Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.