BONNERS FERRY — They are popping up all over around Bonners Ferry, little micro gardens nestled in pots and planters, growing a wide variety of edibles, vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Not only are they beautiful, but they are planted and maintained by individuals or businesses, so that they can provide the fruits of their labor to anyone in the community.
The idea began when GROW!, a community garden nonprofit organization here in Boundary County, received a grant from the City of Bonners Ferry. This grant helped to fund the Little Free Garden Project, which began in May. The Little Free Gardens is a nationwide project, and the one started here is the first in Idaho.
Members of the organization, along with others who are certified University of Idaho Master Gardeners in Boundary County, reached out to local business owners, who quickly embraced the idea. The business owners filled out an application and received a planter that best fit their desired needs.
Some businesses stepped up, not only providing their own planters, but also their own soil and plants, some of which they grew themselves.
“As is typical of this community, people were generous and supportive of this project,” said Kate Painter, Ph.D., UI Agriculture Extension Educator.
The first Little Free Garden in not only Bonners Ferry, but in all of Idaho, went up in front of the Boundary County Library.
“The GROW folks were doing a presentation because they wanted to get a grant. They made a pitch for theirs, and I said, ‘I’ve got a place for it, right out front’,” said Boundary County Library Director Craig Anderson. “Lo and behold, they put the first one there and it turned out to be the very first Free Little Garden in the state of Idaho. That kind of blew me away.”
The $2,500 grant they received to fund the project came from the City of Bonners Ferry through their High Five! project, which is sponsored by Blue Cross of Idaho’s Foundation for Health. The High Five! works with communities, promoting healthy eating and physical activity for Idaho’s children.
The project gained momentum and there are now more than 20 Little Free Gardens in Boundary County, featuring edible plants such as tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, pepper plants, peas, basil, stevia, pole beans, edible flowers, and a variety of herbs.
“We are in the process of replacing some of the earlier lettuce plants with short season carrots, beets, peas, kale, and fall lettuce,” said Painter. “Many people don’t know about succession planting for fall crops.”
Bushnell Law is one of the businesses participating in the program. Known for their extensive flower display on the sidewalk in front of the business, they felt it was a natural progression to add the free garden with edible plants.
“I think it is a really cool idea,” said Sheraya Hauck, Bushnell Law office manager. “We always have a huge flower display out here every year, so why not add a little vegetables.”
One of the troubles the Little Free Gardens face, is that people do not realize they are there to be shared with everyone, and people seem shy to help themselves to the food.
“We put a bunch of strawberry plants there and they didn’t produce this year, but next year when they do, I think that will be a lot more tempting,” said Hauck.
The gardens in front of the library fared fairly well. They are currently growing tomatoes, but they had lettuce earlier in the season.
“A bunch of that got eaten,” said Anderson. “I think it is great. It is free, healthy food.”
As the beautiful and edible gardens continue to pop up outside of businesses, the benefits become apparent, not just as free, healthy food for the community, but also in the attention they draw as people pass by.
“I thought it was an awesome opportunity, for one, to get our name out here, because our business is owned by an agency down in southern Idaho, and just to give back to the community,” said Insure It All Office Manager, Jenni Dougherty, who brought up the idea to put a free garden out front of their office.
“I was involved with GROW for a couple years,” said Dougherty. “I just really like what they stand for and this was a way for me to participate.”
Painter, who got the ball rolling on this project, has high hopes for the benefits of the movement.
“I hope more people in our community will become interested in growing their own food, and in eating more locally-grown produce,” said Painter. “I hope our children will become interested in the magic of gardening and learn to love fresh garden produce.”
The community is encouraged to look around for these little edible gems as they visit businesses around town, and remember that the produce is free for everyone. People and businesses are also welcome to participate themselves, giving something back to the community.
To find the locations of the Little Free Gardens: www.littlefreegarden.com/map
For more information about starting a Little Free Garden in Boundary County: growboundarycounty.org