Garden-in-a-Box: Kids are happy to eat vegetables when they've grown their own

June 14 was a perfect day for gardening at the St. Paul Midway YMCA on University Ave. The sun was shining, the weather was warm, and 40 polypropylene planting boxes, filled only with fertile black soil, stood ready for 130 kids, ages 3 to 12, to arrive.

The planting boxes are part of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society (MSHS) Garden-in-a-Box Programdesigned to help low income families grow their own healthy vegetables. The younger kids came from the Y’s day-care program. Older kids arrived in school buses from St Paul’s summer school programs. The MSHS is a non-profit organization that has been helping support northern gardeners for 119 years, but the Garden-in-a-Box program is new, launched in 2008. The program partnered with the Midway YMCA and with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

The YMCA garden is one of 15 Garden-in-a-Box locations around the state, with 11 in the Twin Cities metro area. “We want to educate the next generation of gardeners. We wanted a project to help them learn to grow their own foods and the Midway Y Project was the perfect venue,” said Diane Duvall, development and volunteer coordinator with the MSHS.  

“The idea for Garden-in-a-Box came up at a staff meeting,” said Vicky Vogels, MSHS’s Community Outreach Coordinator. “I took the ball and ran with it. This has been an incredible year for us. At first I thought that 40 gardening boxes here were too many, but the interest in this program and in gardening is really high. Last year we had 30 boxes, but this year we really needed more.” 

“The kids coming to this event were curious,” said Duvall. “For many, this was their first experience planting. Planting and cultivating a garden gets them more connected to where their food comes from and gives them the opportunity to learn how to grow their own food. This is something that can help them throughout their lives.”

Each child had a chance to help dig a hole or plant a vegetable. The kids will tend the garden, guided by volunteers, throughout the summer. The same kids will harvest and take produce to their families, with some of the yield going to local food shelves.

In the past five years, the program has grown substantially, with 300 planting boxes placed at schools and community organization gardens. Volunteers come from all over.

Landscape architect David Motzenbecker put in hours and expertise designing the garden at the Y. “I contacted Blue Cross and asked if I could help. First, we looked at the shape of the garden space and the size of the boxes,” he said. “We decided on a sun ray pattern, with the oak tree in the center.” He looked on as groups of children planted their first tomatoes. “It’s great to see this happen. It really looks beautiful.”

Vogels said that growing vegetables, even in one small planting box, has wider implications for the kids and their families.

“It’s easy to plant in them,” she said. “You don’t need a big garden. You can do this on a patio. If you garden, you create community space. And when the kids learn to grow their own food, that leads them to other healthy activities. Gardens can reduce crime rates. They can change neighborhoods,” she said.

The Garden-in-a-Box Program is funded through grants and donations from individuals, local businesses and garden clubs from around the area. Those wishing to help support Garden-in-a-Box financially, or for more information about the project can contact Vicky Vogels at vickyv [at] northerngardener [dot] org (vickyv [at] northerngardener [dot] org). To volunteer as a garden mentor, contact St. Paul Midway YMCA Community Teaching Giving Garden’s director of healthy living Catherine Quinlivan at Catherine [dot] quinlivan [at] ymcatwincities [dot] org (Catherine [dot] quinlivan [at] ymcatwincities [dot] org) or 651-292-4138. Garden-in-a-Box planters are also available for low-income families who qualify.


Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

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    Stephanie Fox's picture
    Stephanie Fox

    Stephanie Fox (stephaniefox2 at tcdailyplanet dot net) has a Master's Degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. She moved to Minneapolis of her own free will in 1984.

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    Minnesota State Horticultural Society - Garden-in-a-Box

    The Minnesota State Horticultural Society is happy to be working with the Midway YMCA through our Garden-in-a-Box program. The program has been possible through the generous support of foundations and organizations. We've actually been supporting northern gardeners since 1866 - 147 years! Find out more at www.northerngardener.org.