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California communities learn to become self-sufficient with mini gardens

Virgilio Marin

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Cooperation Humboldt, a transition initiative in Humboldt County in California, is providing mini-gardens for free to help communities in the state’s North Coast become self-sufficient and achieve food independence.

The organization initially provided free lawn conversions but decided to shift its focus later on. Tamara McFarland, a leader within the cooperation, was concerned that the lawn conversion project failed to reach individuals who would benefit the most from growing their own food. Most of the people applying for lawn conversions were long-term renters and homeowners with a stable income and the privilege of starting a backyard garden.

When the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, the organization became even more motivated to move away from its lawn-conversion model, which required a number of volunteers working side-by-side for long stretches of time. To that end, the cooperation thought of starting a free mini-garden project to cater to those with limited lawn space and reduce in-person contact.

Starting a community mini-garden program

The organization created three to four-foot-long garden beds that are made of fabric grow bags filled with high-quality soil. These small garden beds were delivered fully planted with a variety of plant starts and basic gardening accessories. Because the mini-gardens are “ready to grow,” the organization was able to reduce face-to-face contact amid the pandemic.

The group also provided educational resources to teach recipients how to care for their gardens. In addition, recipients were encouraged to reach out for help with any gardening questions they might have.

The project was a huge success. The cooperation managed to reach a broad community of people and install around 260 mini-gardens throughout last year’s growing season. Meanwhile, individuals whose source of income had been hamstrung by the pandemic found a way to feed their families. (Related: Self-sufficiency training: How to practice homesteading in an apartment or tiny home.)

The group was also able to hire two people this year after partnering with the Smart Business Resource Center, a California-based nonprofit that helps job seekers find employment. Through the partnership, the cooperation was able to secure federal funding for the project and pay the two employees a fair wage to build and deliver mini gardens.

But the project was not easy to execute. McFarland revealed that the project required a decent amount of funding because the materials for each mini garden cost around $100. Meanwhile, advertising, building and delivering the gardens demanded a dedicated team of volunteers with a gardening background. But not all volunteers would necessarily have the right skillset for the job.

McFarland’s advice to anyone looking to start a similar community program is to secure ample funding and train volunteers before putting them on the field.

Cooperation Humboldt plants public fruit trees

Last month, Cooperation Humboldt planted 130 fruit trees throughout Humboldt County as part of its tree planting program. Like the mini-garden project, the program’s mission is to increase self-sufficiency in the community and make food available to everyone.

“We believe that nutritious food is a fundamental human right, and our projects aim to put that belief into practice in very tangible ways,” McFarland said in a press release. “Growing public food in common spaces is an important step toward our goal to return Humboldt County to the regenerative, life-sustaining food forest and ecological haven that it once was.”

The organization had been planting for three years now. It planted 23 trees in 2019 and 56 last year, bringing the total number of trees to 209 with this year’s batch. All of the trees were planted in publicly accessible locations to make food available to everyone. Once the trees had borne fruit, residents could come and harvest the produce.

Visit for more stories about gardening and tips to become self-sufficient.

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