April 22, 2020

The Bucket Garden Project: Growing Hope Out of COVID-19

McDowell Bucket Garden

McDowell Bucket Garden seedlings and bucket package

By Robert A. Poarch

“What’s sort of unique about my role is that I’m not just a diabetes educator sitting in an office doing traditional diabetes education. My role is more primarily in the community,” said Kimberly Freeman, RN, CDE, CTTS, NBC-HWC, Diabetes Program, Community Outreach and Education, at Mission Hospital McDowell. “I’m fortunate to be part of the Local Food Advisory Council. I’m on the board of the McDowell County Health Coalition. I’m part of a number of different established committees and groups in McDowell County. I represent Mission Hospital McDowell.”

Each of Freeman’s roles seem to be coming together during the COVID-19 pandemic in McDowell County with the Bucket Garden Project, a program that she started as the Youth Engagement Chair, in collaboration with the LFAC team. About one quarter of the families living in McDowell County currently need some kind of food assistance. “We’re talking about 1,200 households a week are receiving some kind of assistance,” said Freeman. “We’ve been doing a lot of food distribution and a lot of collaborating with community partners to make sure that folks are fed.”

Conscious that kids were doing their schooling from home, Freeman wanted to do more than just feed her neighbors during this tough time. “It was an opportunity to engage children in a way that there was some learning happening,” said Freeman. “And, thinking ahead, what are some ways that we can affect families and maybe provide a little bit of extra food security in the form of fresh produce.”

Freeman was also thinking beyond COVID-19. “What if we give them the opportunity to create a garden at home, so a little bit later on there’s potential for this fresh produce along with this a learning and entertainment experience that comes with putting it all together,” she said.

Collaborating with community partners, Freeman went to a locally owned hardware store, and they donated one hundred five-gallon buckets. A local greenhouse donated the soil, and a cooperative extension donated all of the seeds.

“Everyone would get a five-gallon bucket that included soil, and either seedling plants or a packet of seeds, instructions for planting, a hashtag bucket garden challenge so that folks could share their growing experience,” said Freeman. “There is a My Planting journal that the children can make and write observations about the growing experience.”

There was also a food resource list for McDowell County provided in both English and Spanish. Along with the buckets, one hundred seedlings were donated by a local farmer.

“Originally, we were trying to provide the buckets for people who didn’t have a place or a spot at their home to plant something,” said Freeman. “If you’re in an apartment or a rented place that you can’t put a garden in, a bucket on the back patio is an easy way to do that. For those who said that they’ve got some space in their yard, I had bags put together that were just packets of seed, which included cucumber, squash, varieties of lettuce and other things that would grow well in a restricted space. We even threw in some flowers, just to brighten some days.”

Freeman and her team distributed the Bucket Gardens at Old Fort Elementary School and North Cove Elementary School during lunch distribution. Buckets were also given to middle school students at the Foothills Community School, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program. All one hundred of the buckets were distributed to these three schools.

The Bucket Garden Project has been well received. “It’s been really exciting. We’ve actually already had families share on social media their gardens,” said Freeman. “We’ve had one family show their boys putting the garden together. Another young lady just shared plants starting to show from planting seeds. It’s sort of a sign of hope. You hope when you put this all together that something will result.”

To learn more about or to make a donation to the Bucket Garden Project, visit the McDowell Local Food Advisory Council Facebook page.

Health Benefits of Growing Your Own Food

• Better flavor
• Save money – fresh produce in stores can be more expensive than frozen or canned
• Can be canned or preserved at home
• Readily available
• Helps us to eat more fruits and vegetables in our diet
• Not processed
• You decide on the fertilizers/pesticides
• No added sugar
• Virtually no sodium or unhealthy fat (unless we add it)
• High in fiber
• More antioxidants in such produce as squash, lettuce, kale, collards, berries
• Improved quality of life
• Supplement to nonperishable items
• As fruits and vegetables ripen, they tend to more nutrient dense than store bought because they are not picked as early
• Fresh herbs can be used to flavor food in a healthful way
• Supports hearth health, diabetes self-management, and chronic condition prevention and management

Kimberly Freeman, RN, CDE, CTTS, NBC-HWC, works in the Diabetes Program, and Community Outreach and Education at Mission Hospital McDowell.

Mission Hospital McDowell is a member of Mission Health and a community hospital serving Marion and the surrounding North Carolina mountain communities of McDowell County. Mission Hospital McDowell offers comprehensive services, including primary and specialty care. To learn more, visit missionhealth.org/McDowell.