Providing vegetable starts to clients at your organization is a great tool to reduce food insecurity and empower community members with free fresh produce. Not everyone has the space, time, or skills to have a garden, so use vegetable varieties that grow well in pots and don’t need too much advanced work.
Supplies: 4-inch pots, potting soil, and seeds or tiny starts are the bare minimum supplies necessary to distribute free starts. Most gardeners have an old stash of 4-inch pots; utilize local gardening groups to locate a source. Potting soil donations can be solicited from chain home-improvement stores. Big stores are more likely to be able to afford a donation, but try submitting a soil donations request to family-owned gardening businesses as well. If your vegetable starts need to be started indoors and hardened off, ask a local farmer if they can start two 72’s-trays of plants in exchange for free soil and the cost of seeds. Organic, non-GMO seed suppliers frequently have a donations request form on their website for nonprofits, and seeds can also be requested from the community.
Labor: Volunteers will need to be recruited and managed in order to do all of the tasks necessary to pull the final distribution together. First, any 4-inch pots that were used prior to donating may harbor harmful bacteria. To disinfect, wash away all dirt and debris. Dunk pots into soapy water, rinse with clean water, spray with a sanitizer solution, and allow to air dry. Hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally-friendly sanitizer that won’t leave residue like bleach; attach a spray bottle top to a bottle of peroxide and spray cleaned pots inside and out. Next, you will need labor to fill the pots with soil and seeds or starts. This is a great activity for kids. Can a local scout troop or elementary class spend an hour potting the starts while guided by a volunteer? Finally, make a plan for how to get the starts to the point of distribution on the day you need them, and prepare a backup plan for staying dry in case of Spring rain.
Plan of Distribution: How many starts would you like to give away, and how many bags of soil will be needed? What time of year can starts be left outside without temperatures sinking too low? Solicit donations 6 weeks prior to your target distribution date, and create protocol on how starts should be distributed. Will a volunteer with the Master Gardeners club man a table and give away starts with growing advice? Will starts be left out for clients to take as they please? Will you label each individual pot, or put up a sign indicating which starts are which?