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  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Agriculture
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By Melissa Jo Hill
CCE Steuben County is always looking to develop projects to further its mission of education, nutrition, and healthy communities in an inclusive, safe manner, especially while New Yorkers are spending more time at home.

Thanks to a grant from the NYS Department of Ag and Markets, Ag Educator Ariel Kirk and her team were able to develop a do-it-yourself container garden kit with all the necessary components and supplementary support materials, and then collaborating with neighboring CCE associations, distribute the kits to residents in five counties in New York State.

Each kit comes with three potting containers, three familiar and quick growing seed types (Italian basil, green onions, and romaine-style lettuce), potting soil, and a growing guide. To engage participants and offer alternative learning platforms, educators created a Facebook group specifically for sharing progress photos, comments, and technical help. Using the Facebook group allowed educators and participants to communicate in real-time as they would in a traditional in-person workshop.

“The audience interested in gardening has been diverse, from senior couples looking forward to trying container gardening at home, to parents with young children, parents introducing their special needs children to gardening, and grandparents working with their grandkids on the project,” said Kirk. “In Steuben county alone, 35 people asked to participate within the first three days of the announcement.”

CCE Steuben County took their project a step further, partnering with the neighboring CCE organizations of Tioga, Chemung, Schuyler, and Yates Counties to pack and distribute 1200 kits to the residents within those five counties. The collaboration allowed for a wider audience to be reached within the Southern Finger Lakes and Southern Tier region. “The Container Gardening Kits have been well received by Yates County residents,” said Caroline Boutard-Hunt, CCE Yates County Agriculture Educator. “It’s also given us a great opportunity to reach out and directly connect during a time when many feel extremely isolated. We had one couple who said that the food distribution was the only time they left their house and they had been so sad they hadn’t been able to garden this year. The kit will give them the opportunity to grow some lovely vegetables and herbs this season.”

The team also engaged their Master Gardener Volunteers (MGV) to create how-to videos specifically for the kit contents. Each county’s educator, along with MGV assistance, will be following up with each household in a month to help with growing questions, offer recipe ideas, and provide overall encouragement. Distribution is happening on a rolling basis, with completion targeted so participants can grow their bounty and share their experiences before the conclusion of the grant in September. The enthusiasm and feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive and the team hopes to repeat this project with similar funds next year if possible.

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