Hundreds of families in and around La Crosse, Wisconsin, have reaped bountiful results from tending their own square-foot gardens, a community initiative for healthy eating and healthy lifestyles.
Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare and its partners have distributed more than 650 square-foot garden kits since the project began four years ago.
Cinthia Shireman, sustainability coordinator, Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare, says that Mayo was intrigued by the small garden kits because a healthy diet and active lifestyle can help reduce the incidence of illnesses such as heart disease and type II diabetes. “Gardening is an opportunity for physical activity and a source of inexpensive healthy food,” says Shireman. “Even with the little space, you get an amazing harvest.”
A garden in a kit
The kits include a 4-by-4-foot wood frame, hardware to connect the boards, and a rope grid to section the garden into square-foot sections. Directions, soil mix and seedlings are provided, too.
Mayo Clinic Health System first offered garden kits to its employees. They proved so popular that Mayo found collaborators to grow the program. In 2016, WisCorps, a nonprofit conservation organization, joined in. Its staff cut the lumber, compile the kits and handle online ordering. Purple Cow Organics, Middleton, Wis., provides the soil at discounted prices. Mayo Clinic Health System pays for the materials and designs and prints instructions.
Kits sold and donated
About 200 kits are created each year. The kits are sold for $49, less than the cost of the materials. Some kits are donated to local social service organizations for their clients.
Feedback from gardeners suggests impressive harvests:
“Our garden has been very bountiful! We have had more yummy salads with vegetable we grew ourselves than we can count! We are really enjoying our gardens and are already making plans for what we want to do next year.”
“Loved it! Made city gardening a possibility for me!”
“The garden helped me feed my family at a time when I couldn’t afford to do so.”
“My two girls (6 years and 4 years) and I all feel like we have green thumbs! This kit has given us such confidence in gardening!”
Mayo Clinic Health System plans to continue its support for square-foot garden kits. “We are especially thrilled to hear about families using the kits to engage children in gardening,” says Shireman. “Kids who help grow and prepare food tend to make healthier food choices throughout their lifetimes. That’s a great way to help reduce the impact of chronic disease in our community.”
Orders for 2019 square foot gardens will open in early March on the WisCorp website.