The Giving Garden, Part 1: The History of Sustainable Volunteer-Led Garden Project

Editors note: This story about the Giving Garden, a Kalamazoo Master Gardener volunteer-led project, was submitted by JC Schneider a Kalamazoo County,  Michigan Extension Master Gardener. This is the first of several posts where JC shares the story of the Giving Garden and how Master Gardener volunteers and partnerships with local businesses and organizations have sustained the Giving Garden for over 15 years.  When I asked JC to share what was most interesting and unique to him about this project he replied:

One of the most interesting things about being involved with this project, is that this is the only project I have ever been a part of, run by a committee, that works, and it works well.

Thus this blog post will be followed by two other blogs posts with details of how the Giving Garden has sustained it’s efforts and provided rich learning opportunities over the years. Through these blog posts about the Giving Garden, I hope you’ll be able to take away some “nuggets of wisdom’ from what the Kalamazoo Master Gardener have shared through these posts, or perhaps share some of your own insights about sustainable garden projects via the comments section below.

– Karen Jeannette, eXtension Consumer Horticulture Content Coordinator

How The Giving Garden Began

Mike Blakely,
Mike Blakely, Kalamazoo County Master Gardener, planted the seed for this volunteer project. (Photo: JC Schneider)

From the late 70s through the early 90s, Mike Blakely, a local Master Gardener and retiree, was asked to judge personal gardens grown by employees of Humphrey Products, a local maker of small machine parts, on land the company owned. They awarded a prize each year to the employee judged to have the best garden.

In the mid nineties, the economy was good and interest in gardening waned. By the late nineties, gardening on the property ceased altogether.

Mike requested permission from the company to garden a portion of the land.  He proposed donating the vegetables harvested to Loaves and Fishes, a local organization that provides food for those in need via 26 local pantries and kitchens in the Kalamazoo area.  Humphrey Products generously agreed to provide the land and water for irrigation. Water lines had been installed by the company for use by employee gardeners. It was then that Mike “planted the seed” of this volunteer garden project.

Growing the Garden through people, plants, and partnerships

Mike gathered a few Master Gardener volunteers and in 1997, the project began. The garden has matured over time; the area cultivated has grown, as well as the amount and varieties of vegetables planted. In addition, efforts to teach young people to garden were added to the plan.

Our harvest has improved and the number of volunteers has increased significantly. Coordinated by Mike until 2008, when he thought it was time to “retire” at 84 years young, the garden is now overseen by a core group of nine volunteer Master Gardener “Coordinators” consisting primarily of retirees from a wide range of professions including scientists, a physics professor, a fireman, a schoolteacher, and others. Additionally, some 60 people, mostly Master Gardeners, volunteer various amounts of their time to the garden each year.

In 2006, our production exceeded Loaves and Fishes capacity so we made arrangements with the Food Bank of South Central Michigan to have them distribute our vegetables. The Food Bank serves an eight county area serving over 200 organizations that provide fresh, healthy, locally grown food.

Community and Volunteers Make the Giving Garden Possible

Spring Plow
Spring Plow (Photo: JC Schneider)

Without the help we get from the community and all our volunteers, this project would not be possible. In 2008, Humphrey Products sold much of the land we were gardening to Kendall Electric. When Kendall realized what we were doing on that property, they supported us 100% and along with Humphrey, have been wonderful partners. Humphrey supplies all the water for irrigation, Kendall donated money for a new top of the line rototiller to replace our two 35 year old models.

Donations as well as fundraisers, held by the Kalamazoo County Master Gardeners, help fund the garden. A local radio station included us in a fundraiser; the money donated was used to build our new shed. The Food Bank also helps with expenses. We cannot thank the community, local businesses, Michigan State University Extension and all the Master Gardeners enough for helping to make the seed that Mike Blakely planted 15 years ago grow into a project that benefits so many people, much like Jack and his beanstalk.

-Blog post article submitted by JC Schneider
Kalamazoo Michigan Extension Master Gardener

2011 Search for Excellence Community Service Award Winner- 3rd Place

Share the Health Educational Garden- Cuyahoga County, Ohio

The STH Garden is a project involving three entities: the village of Gates Mills, the Master Gardeners of Cuyahoga County, and Magnolia Clubhouse of Cleveland.  Five years ago, two Master Gardeners started to grow vegetables for the needy on land provided by the village.  Since that time the garden has grown in area, the amount of food produced, and the number of people involved.  Only sustainable gardening practices are used to grow the food.

Master Gardeners in the greenhouse after a bountiful harvest.

The STH garden donates its entire harvest each year to Magnolia Clubhouse.  Magnolia Clubhouse is a day program for adults with mental illness.  Last year, the STH garden provided over 2000 pounds of fresh vegetables to the Clubhouse.  This resulted in savings of $150 per week in Magnolia’s food budget.  Clubhouse members discovered they liked some vegetables they had never enjoyed before.

Last year, twenty eight Master Gardeners volunteered at one time or another in the garden, as well as ten community members.  Volunteers come to the garden each Monday at 9 am from March to November to do what is needed.  The STH garden would not exist without the involvement of those who donate resources, including the Gates Mills Improvement Society, the Ivy Garth Seed Company, community members, and the Master Gardeners of Cuyahoga County.

Master Gardeners raise vegetables organically to give to disabled adults

The Master Gardeners work with Magnolia House to determine the best products to grow, based on nutritional value, food preferences and preparation.  Each year the Master Gardeners try new vegetables, but staple crops of green beans, tomatoes, beets and potatoes provide consistency.  The Garden is grown organically for the most part.

Master Gardeners raise vegetables organically in their community garden.

This garden, with its mission to donate all food grown to needy individuals, is the first of its kind in Cuyahoga County.  Education is a key component of this mission.  Community members and Master Gardeners have attended sessions on preserving herbs and three-season vegetable gardening.  Magnolia Clubhouse members have also visited the garden to learn about the crops grown and garden care.

This year the garden won several different awards for its efforts.  The Gates Mills Garden Club was awarded first place in Ohio for the educational exhibit provided by the STH garden.  In the Ohio Master Gardener community service contest, the STH garden earned first place!

Whom might I contact for more information about the STH garden?

Gwen Morgan, 440.823.1591,
Sharon Klimm, 440.248.8567,

To learn more about Cuyhoga County Master Gardeners visit their webpage at

Written by Sharon Klimm, Cuyohoga County Ohio Master Gardener

2011 Search for Excellence Community Service Award Winners- 1st Place

Seed2Need- The Corrales Food Pantry Project- Sandoval County, NM

The Sandoval County, New Mexico Master Gardeners received the first place award in the Community Service Category at the International Master Gardener conference in October in West Virginia.

Master Gardeners transplant tomato seedlings to go into the garden.

Seed2Need is a collaborative effort between the Sandoval County Master Gardeners (SCMG) and local property owners.  Our mission is to address hunger in our community by growing fresh produce for our local food pantries. Participating property owners provide the land, electricity and irrigation water.  SCMG volunteers make up our core group of volunteers.

Volunteers address hunger issues in  their communities

We also receive help from friends, neighbors, family members, scout troops, 4-H, church groups, private individuals and from several food pantries.  Funding is donated by local businesses.  In order to make these donations tax deductable, Seed2Need was organized as a project under the fiscal sponsorship of an existing non-profit.  Crops are selected based on interviews with the food pantries, nutritional value, productivity and length of harvest.

In 2011, 45,200 lbs of produce donated to food pantries

One days harvest ready to go to the local food pantry.

In 2010, we grew 30,700 pounds of  produce on 8/10 acre.  In 2011,  our gardens were expanded to 1 1/2 acres and our total harvest was 45,200 pounds.  During peak harvest, we donated produce to ten food pantries in Sandoval and Bernalillo Counties.

According to a recent Census Bureau report, New Mexico ranks 2nd in the nation in terms of poverty and 5th in terms of food insecurity.  51% of our food pantries report turning people away to lack of food.  Federal and state funding has been cut and charitable contributions are down 8% nationwide. Hunger is a serious problem in our country. The need is great… and as Master Gardeners, we can help . . . one garden at a time.


For more information, e-mail or see Facebook page Seed2Need

Written by Pamela Davis, Sandoval County New Mexico Master Gardener