Mississippi Farm to School Network is dedicated to creating connections between Mississippi farmers and schools to help bring locally grown fruits and vegetables into cafeterias.
It’s a mission that not only creates new avenues of revenue for farmers but also helps to teach kids about the importance of nutritionally dense foods.
“When kids can get a taste of fruits and vegetables at school, then they often request those same foods on a trip to the grocery store with their parents,” said Mississippi Farm to School Network Co-Director Sunny Baker.
But, when COVID-19 shut down schools in April 2020, the Mississippi Farm to School team’s ability to work with schools was put on pause. This left Baker and fellow co-director Dorothy Grady-Scarborough looking for alternative methods of connecting with students and ensuring they could access fresh fruits and vegetables.
Ultimately, Grady-Scarborough and Baker decided to launch a home garden grant program.
Under the program, families with school-aged children across the state can apply for a $150 grant to purchase the supplies they need — from soil and seeds to shovels and watering canisters — to start a home garden. The grant comes in the form of a gift card to an area nursery or home goods and gardening store. In addition, recipients are given a shopping list and instructions for starting their garden.
“It’s very empowering for kids to grow their own food and contribute to their families. It’s work, but it’s very rewarding,” said Grady-Scarborough, who made it her mission to find funding for the grant program. “Home gardening gives families an activity they can do outside together and creates a food source that they have complete control over.”
The first application for home garden grants opened on a Friday in June and by Monday the organization had received more than 1,000 submissions.
“With a large number of applications and the funds to only grant 130 gardens for our first round, we decided to give them first come first serve to families,” Grady-Scarborough said.
Those first 130 grants were funded with help from the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi (CFNM). To help fulfill the requests for the remaining grant applicants, CFNM President Keith Fulcher assisted in aligning the cause with Robin Hurdle from The Maddox Foundation to continue support for the program, along with the Kellogg Foundation.
“We were excited that the Maddox Foundation stepped up to support Dorothy’s efforts to provide gardens in all 82 Mississippi counties,” Fulcher said. “That’s a tremendous accomplishment that Dorothy achieved with their support.”
This funding also helped Mississippi Farm to School Network open the grant applications again in September, and the response again drove more than 1,000 families to apply.
Grady-Scarborough and Baker want to fill each request and hope to make home garden grants part of Mississippi Farm to School Networks’ ongoing mission.
“We want to give a home garden grant to every family with children in Mississippi that wants them,” Grady-Scarborough said. “And then if they need help keeping their garden up or want to buy supplies to plant different crops, we want to help as well.”
To help fund the ongoing grant program, Mississippi Farm to School Network has launched a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe. Every dollar donated with help to supply future garden grants.
“It doesn’t take much to help a family get their garden growing,” Baker said.
If you would like to donate to Mississippi Farm to School Network’s home garden grant fund, visit the GoFundMe page.
Courtesy of Red Window Communications