This post was originally published in the Missoula Current on April 16, 2021.

As I watched this winter’s snow melt, I plotted my backyard garden with the same fervor that I planned my own wedding. After years of renting, I was soon to be a first-time member of the home-gardening club, and I was ready. 

After the maps were drafted and the spreadsheets complete, it was time to get my hands on some seeds. And some seed-starting trays. And grow lights. Just like my wedding, I was dismayed as the costs began piling up – not just for trays and lights, but for seed-starting soil, lumber for raised beds, soil to fill them, posts and wire for deer fencing…me oh my. Even after purchasing most of the building and fencing materials secondhand, it still added up to a pretty penny.

I am lucky to be able to afford these items, but that is not the case for everyone. The financial barrier to gardening exacerbates Missoula’s already high poverty rate and the lack of food security faced by many. According to the Montana Food Bank Network, “Approximately 1 in 10 Montanans struggle with hunger, and nearly 37,000 children live in food insecure homes” – numbers that have surely increased during the pandemic.

When equipped with the materials and know-how to successfully maintain home gardens, research shows that the benefits extend far beyond reducing hunger. A 2013 study published in Agriculture & Food Security found that, “benefits of home gardens include enhancing food and nutritional security…improving family health and human capacity, empowering women, promoting social justice and equity, and preserving indigenous knowledge and culture.”

Thankfully, Missoula is home to many organizations working to empower our community with access to gardening skills and equipment. Garden City Harvest’s network of community gardens connects Missoulians to a garden plot complete with tools, water, and educational resources. The new mutual aid project Seedlings for Solidarity aims to reduce food-insecurity by distributing free home-garden kits to food-insecure community members. The Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD) hosts a variety of hands-on workshops and is home to a tool library where members can borrow shared tools for gardening and much more. 

Earth Day is April 22, and in the spirit of celebrating our planet and community, MUD is hosting several upcoming events to help increase food security right here in Missoula:

  • Saturday, April 17: Join MUD for a Little Free Pantry Workshop to build your own little free pantry out of repurposed materials – no previous building experience necessary! Little free pantries are a great way to make meaningful changes from the bottom up by increasing mutual aid and equitable access to food in your own neighborhood. 
  • Saturday, April 24: Volunteer to build planter boxes for food-insecure community members with Seedlings for Solidarity! No previous building experience required. Sign up for a morning or afternoon volunteer shift here.
  • Sunday, May 2: Get a better understanding of the science behind your garden’s soil at MUD’s Soil Health Workshop. Workshop instructor Mark Vander Meer will teach you how to characterize your soil with simple techniques anyone can do with practice.

My countertops are now brimming with the soft, bright leaves of young peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and kale. Soon it will be time to transfer them to their sunny outdoor abode. I’ll undoubtedly stumble many times along this new-home-gardener path, and face unforeseen expenses (ahem, irrigation?). I’ll know where to turn for help along the way.


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