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Sustainable Missoula: First time gardener learns more than growing beans

Genevieve Jessop Marsh is a gardener, Swedish Chef style cook, and the community outreach director for Garden City Harvest.

“Just plant more,” he told her. 

Naomi was a first time gardener, having joined Garden City Harvest’s Northside Community Garden earlier that spring. She was staring at her row of beans, discovering that they had all rotted and died. Seemed about right, considering the way her life was going at that moment. 

Her family had to sell their house to move to the Northside neighborhood: a domino effect of illness leading to job loss in the midst of the 2008 recession. The Missoula Food Bank had gotten them through the winter. So had selling a few heirlooms her mother had left her, and finally her dining room table. 

“Just plant more?” She asked. 

“It’s a wet spring, mine rotted, too. Just plant more.” 

She did. And they grew. She was giving beans (and many other vegetables) back to the Missoula Food Bank by the height of the season. 

The garden gave her self-sufficiency. Hope. It gave her a community of gardeners full of ideas, opinions, techniques that pretty much guarantee that, if you listen, you can’t fail. 

I was reminded of Naomi’s story when I saw a photo she posted on Instagram in the first week of “Stay at Home.” It was of a fresh cut stack of wood that was about to become raised beds in her backyard. She now owns a house and is gardening at home.

In this time of stress and uncertainty, she again turned to gardening. She told me that it is now akin to her lucky rabbit’s foot. 

Nationally and locally we’ve seen this as the pandemic unfolds: people are turning to gardening and local farms to take control of their food security. Garden City Harvest has certainly seen an increased interest in our community garden plots and CSA farm shares (a subscription to a local farm, picking up veggies each week) – and we’ve heard similar things from farmer friends and those selling seeds. Johnny’s Seeds sales were up by 300% in March!  

Self-sufficiency and control over your food supply are practical reasons to go local: as long as the rain falls and the sun rises (and you seed, water, and weed), you have food. Growing food locally and sustainably offers a more resilient, self-reliant system for food access. In supporting local farmers, we are supporting our local economy, rather than relying on a global distribution and transportation system that has a much greater carbon footprint.

You can also talk directly to the people who are growing your food. We can tell you exactly how it’s grown, how we’re washing and packaging the veggies, when we’re washing our hands, and who has had contact with your food. It’s a small group. 

When you garden together, at a community garden, you will be buoyed by the people around you. When you pick up food at a CSA farm share or farmers’ market, you share in a community around local food, you know your farmer, you share recipes and storage tips. There’s a shared sense of connection there, too.

Even on the microbial level, eating close to home is good for us. Studies have shown that microbes in our soil give us many things: a boosted immune system (take that COVID-19!), a boosted mood, and reduces stress, depression, and anxiety. There’s the added bonus of exercise, fresh air, and vitamin D. 

In times of crisis it isn’t surprising that our gut reaction (literally, our gut wants those microbes!) is something that gives us connection, a lifeline to food, and a stress reliever. 

Genevieve Jessop Marsh is the Community Outreach Director, Garden City Harvest

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming events and what we’re reading and doing amidst these challenging times:

This column usually ends with a list of community events to engage with and go to. COVID-19 postponed or cancelled most events, although some have moved on-line. We are all trying our best to redefine what it means to bring people together.

Here we offer ideas about ways to stay involved and healthy, followed by articles and perspectives that we believe are particularly valuable. If you like these readings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Earth Day is April 22 and it’s being reimagined around the US and there are virtual events being planned here. For one, Climate Smart Missoula is spearheading a community-wide art sharing project. Let’s create something to celebrate a Healthy People, Healthy Community, Healthy Planet:  We’re All in This Together. Let’s join together on or before Earth Day and:

  1. Make a banner, window art, or sidewalk chalk drawing — anything for your home, apartment or lawn that speaks to Earth Day.  Add words, images, a drawing of our planet or simply the words “Earth Day”. Make it colorful and creative, or keep it simple.
  2. Share! Email a photo of your art to alli@climatesmartmissoula.org and we’ll curate a virtual community art show. And if you’re on social media, post your photo with the hashtag #MissoulaEarthDay

More on this project can be found here.

And more about virtually community Earth Day offerings – including a pledge and list of Earth Day actions individuals can take will be posted soon at missoulaearthday.org. And next week’s column will feature more!

Don’t miss it: The International Wildlife Film Festival is going virtual. April 18-25, Find out more and join in here.

Individuals can join the April 18 Climate Rise with Climate Ride. Learn more here.

It’s a great time to grow trees and native plants. The Run for the Trees has gone virtual. For info about what trees to plant and how to care for them head to Trees for Missoula. You can even grow apple trees thanks to our friends at Western Cider.

BINGO keeps getting better. New Bingo Cards for the Climate Activists have been posted here.

What we’re reading at Climate Smart Missoula:


Why We Can’t Ignore the Link Between COVID-19, Climate Change and Inequity:


Coronavirus response proves the world can act on climate change:


We’re in emergency mode for coronavirus – we can do the same thing for climate: