Carol O'Meara, Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension

A pair of neighborhood kids strolled by, twirling rakes on their shoulders as they chatted and decided which households to ask to hire them to clean up fallen leaves. Now that I’m spending so much time at home, I’ve become addicted to watching the neighborhood goings-on; it seems I’m channeling Gladys Kravitz, the nosey character from the old TV show Bewitched.

I found myself watching the kids with growing hope that they’d stop here, because the childhood rite of picking up odd jobs in the neighborhood is so – what’s that word? Normal. But our leaves were already cleaned up by four passes across the yard from the lawnmower to mulch them into the lawn. Running the mower repeatedly over the area cuts the leaves into pieces small enough to benefit the grass.

Normal is not a word I’d use to describe this year, so the sight of the boys hustling jobs that keep up with Mother Nature cheered my mind. Nature is where many of us found solace this past summer and the garden was a big part of folks’ mental health support.

Many people turned to gardening this year as a means of keeping busy, getting fresh air, and finding distraction from the pandemic. New gardeners turned soil for the first time or planted containers with flowers and vegetables. The hope that went into these plantings made the days a bit brighter.

Families gardened together, introducing their children to the joy of planting seeds and watching them sprout. Because our schools have robust earth science programs, many children are the ones who encouraged their adult family members to take up gardening. The intergenerational sharing of growing something green was the right activity for quarantined people.

Gardens sprang up in nooks and crannies, front yards and sidewalk strips, on balconies and decks. Stores sold out of seedlings and seed companies couldn’t keep up with demand. People across the country embraced gardening with a passion we haven’t seen in a long time.

The desire to grow married up with the desire to help others, and the collective anguish over our situation gave rise to a movement based on vegetable patches and dirty hands. Hundreds of gardeners signed up to grow extra food to donate to local food banks and pantries, and others gave without enrolling in a program or project.

Gardeners did this before in the Victory Garden movements of WWI, WWII, and the Great Depression. We make a difference when we share our bounty and this season, across the state, gardeners in Colorado State University’s Grow & Give program donated over 23 tons of produce to those in need. Boulder and Larimer County’s Grow & Give gardeners provided just over 6 tons of that total.

The produce given wasn’t all zucchini and winter squash, either. Instead, gardeners grew luscious tomatoes, crisp lettuces, nutritious broccoli, and green beans to give away. From my garden went plenty of garlic, plus spaghetti squash, peppers, stir fry greens, cabbage, and peas. We plan on doing this again next season too, and if you’d like to join the community feeding our neighbors, check out our webpage

You’ll find a free, downloadable book to help: The Colorado Vegetable Growers Guide. Plus, over 66 different short videos on crop topics from how to grow to what is bugging your plants. More information is being packed onto the webpage this winter. There’s a list of local food pantries and organizations taking donations, too, so you can find the one closest to you.

By Carol O’Meara. Carol is an Extension Agent – Horticulture Entomology at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information call 303.678.6377, e-mail [email protected] or visit