About three years ago, the Boys & Girls Club of Detroit Lakes and Becker County 4-H began collaborating on a summer youth program that combined gardening, cooking and even photography.

With many University of Minnesota Extension and 4-H activities suspended this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, local 4-H Program Coordinator Leigh Nelson-Edwards was challenged to find a way to continue this program in some way.

"I was inspired by one of our youth who participated in the 4-H gardening program for the last three years," Nelson-Edwards said. "He had reached out to us and asked if 4-H was going to be doing any gardening (projects) this year."

So Nelson-Edwards approached Alyssa Hoskins and Tami Skinner from the Boys & Girls Club, along with local SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Educator Donna Anderson, about developing a program that local youth could participate in at home, with gardening and educational materials provided by the participating agencies.

The result of that collaboration was the "Garden to Go" project, which offers each participating youth a cedar gardening container filled with potting soil, seeds, basil and cherry tomato seedlings (one of each per container), gardening instructions, a few produce items for starter recipes, and a few more recipes that would use ingredients grown in their container gardens.

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Leigh Nelson-Edwards, Becker County 4-H Extension Educator
Leigh Nelson-Edwards, Becker County 4-H Extension Educator

"In each instructional packet there are also links to educational videos about cooking, gardening, and even a virtual tour of Lida Farms, where the seedlings were grown," Nelson-Edwards said. "We're also asking the kids to share photos and videos showing their progress in gardening and cooking, and what they've learned."

The educational materials, plants, seeds and other produce included in the container gardening kits included items that were either donated, or provided at a considerable discount, by project partners including Manna Food Co-op, LumBros. Building Solutions and Becker Pet & Garden.

"It's an awesome partnership," Nelson-Edwards said. "There's no way it would work without any one of us."

A total of 25 container garden kits were assembled and distributed to participating families Monday morning, May 18.

"We have a waiting list of about 60 families," she said, adding that they were only waiting on funding to expand the program beyond the initial 25 participants.

Though Nelson-Edwards and her husband built the first 25 garden containers themselves, any future containers used in the program would be built by 4-H participants, she said.

"This community has really come together to support our youth and inspire further hands-on learning," she added, noting that this is an outdoor project that will "get them (participants) away from the computer a little this summer."

Nelson-Edwards said she hopes the program inspires participants to continue gardening on their own, starting a new summer tradition "for their whole families to get involved in gardening and cooking together, and learning about nutrition and health."

How to get a 'Garden to Go'

Though the initial 25 "Garden to Go" boxes have already been distributed, Nelson-Edwards said they are hoping to have some more available in the near future. If your child is interested in obtaining a "Garden to Go" of his or her own — or if you would like to make a donation toward making more available to local families — you can contact her by email at Nels1425@umn.edu.