CSU Extension launches victory gardens for the age of COVID-19 with Grow & Give

Jane Luettgen has a garage full of budding possibility. Boxes of neatly stacked plastic containers for plants sit beside work benches cleared and ready for assembly line transplanting. Seedlings stand at attention in perfect rows in a glassed greenhouse extension, as though waiting for the order to jump one-by-one into the prepared garden beds on the other side of the glass. Luettgen, a Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener, is itching to get her plants in the ground.

“I mostly do it because I like plants and I like to see people happy,” said Luettgen, who has been a Colorado Master Gardener for six years and grows vegetables, flowers and herbs on about an acre of land in Windsor. “I love seeing the bees and the butterflies and donating fresh food to those in need.”

A modern Victory Garden

Children plant peas with CMGs at Rice Elementary in Larimer County in this file photo from before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Luettgen and other Colorado Master Gardeners across the state are participating in Grow & Give, a modern Victory Garden project designed to encourage Coloradans to grow vegetable gardens and plant extra to share with local food banks and community members in need.

Victory gardens were planted on public and private land during World War I and World War II to reduce pressure on the public food supply due to the wars. Roughly 40% of the U.S. vegetables grown in those years came from 20 million victory gardens.

CSU Extension is encouraging people to take advantage of their time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic to get outside and plant gardens, whether they are longtime gardeners or first-time planters.

“During a time when there is so much bad news and uncertainty, we are giving Coloradans a positive opportunity to contribute locally,” explained Katie Dunker, statewide coordinator for the CSU Extension Master Gardener program. “We have wrapped our arms around something that is very tangible and accessible and are taking university resources and expertise in growing food to every corner of the state to help those in need. This is what Extension does; this is who we are. Education and outreach are the very fabric of what a land-grant university does.”

Donating food

Learn more about Grow & Give at growandgivecolorado.org.

More often than not, avid gardeners like Jane Luettgen grow with an ambition much greater than their appetites. “We all grow extra to give away,” said Luettgen, who has donated food to local food banks and plants to youth gardens and other Master Gardener programs in Northern Colorado.

Dunker said she is excited to hear about Colorado gardeners – experienced as well as novices – extending their home-grown generosity to those in need and added that Extension continues to find ways to connect home growers with hunger relief organizations statewide.

Mark Uchanski, associate professor of agriculture and CSU Extension specialty crop specialist, said that donating fresh food is easy to do at most local food banks, and is greatly appreciated.

“Usually, if you’re growing food yourself, you are not only providing healthy fresh produce, but you are growing it with the greatest love and care,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to share health, love and caring with a family in need?”

CSU Extension invites all Coloradans to join in the Grow & Give effort by registering their gardens and sharing their intention to donate at growandgivecolorado.org.

Grow & Give

Gardeners of all experience levels have expert help at their fingertips through CSU Extension offices and representatives in all 64 counties in Colorado. More than 1,400 Colorado Master Gardeners and Extension faculty and staff are ready and willing to help support the Grow & Give effort and to give advice on planting schedules, types of plants to grow based on the location and care of gardens through harvest.

CSU Extension has created a Grow & Give website that offers tips and tutorials for a variety of topics including growing seedlings inside, what to plant, when to plant it and how to plan your garden.

To celebrate the launch of the Grow & Give initiative, throughout the month of May, Extension and CSU Online will offer an online certified gardener course on planting vegetables free of charge to interested gardeners. This course generally costs $40.

To register for the free course visit online.colostate.edu/badges/certified-gardener/ and enter promo code GARDEN2020.