Forty-two families are about to learn about raised-bed vegetable gardening for the first time.

These are the people who joined the Backyard Garden Project: Grow it UP!, a program born in Colorado Springs in November. The local group is spearheaded by Larry Stebbins, a longtime Colorado Springs gardening expert affectionately known as “the Garden Father” (also the name of his gardening blog).

“The objective was to locate at least 40 families that were food insecure and wanted to learn how to garden,” he said. “We would supply two large growing containers, six bags of soil, seeds, plants and instructions.”

He pitched the idea to Irene Shonle, horticulture agent for Colorado State University Extension for El Paso County.

“She loved it,” Stebbins said, “and we got three other Master Gardeners, and the team was formed.” It includes Debra Othitis, Loretta Martinez and Judith Rice-Jones.

“First, we wrote grants and fundraised to cover the costs,” Stebbins said. “Then we contacted local organizations and agencies that could help us identify the families.”

Food to Power (formerly Colorado Springs Food Rescue), Payne Chapel Housing and Relevant Word Ministries picked out the 42 families. The team then called the families to discuss the project and their interest in participating.

Each family was sent a detailed instruction booklet describing all the steps to creating a successful garden. Stebbins and gardening experts at Rick’s Garden Center, 1827 W. Uintah St., prepared five garden-bed designs that will work in the raised gardens, and families were told to select two.

“In early March, six garden volunteers, with trucks, headed to Scotts Miracle Gro in Fountain to pick up 250 bags of donated raised bed garden soil,” said Stebbins. “Dan and Jeana Hopper, owners of Rick’s, donated the use of some space so we could drop off the soil until the new gardeners could come by and pick up their six bags.”

Then the families went to Rick’s to pick up their supplies. They were also given planting containers, vouchers for Rick’s seeds and plants, and two 30-gallon heavy felt grow bags.

“The bags are lightweight, foldable when not filled with soil, and last for years and years,” Stebbins said. “Each grow bag will hold three big bags of soil. The amount of food produced from each bag depends on the design they choose.”

The program is designed so plants can be grown in a small space such as a patio or balcony.

During the growing season, the team will be available by phone or email to field any questions from the gardeners.

“We are hoping these families will find joy and purpose in gardening,” Stebbins said. “Next year we are planning to expand this program to many more families.”

The effort is a pilot program this year and results will be evaluated, Shonle said.

Programs similar to The Backyard Garden Project are offered across the United States and in other countries. The idea is to give families in need a small-scale opportunity to be pro-active in growing, harvesting and preparing healthy vegetables. The program is in its infancy, and the upcoming growing season will be its first.

Visit to read the blog Stebbins updates with news about the program and other tips for gardening in this region.

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