About two years ago, University of Montana student Max Smith and civic activist Geoff Badenoch settled on a number: 1,000. That's how many free backyard vegetable gardens they planned to establish for Missoula homeowners.
They have 889 to go.
But then, their organization, 1,000 New Gardens, doesn't really plan on stopping at 1,000 anyway. "Certainly we won't stop producing or giving out gardens for free," says David Wise, a UM student and volunteer organizer. "There's no reason to stop...
"We basically go to people's backyards, or any patch of ground they have available to them, and put in a garden for them in the hopes they can grow their own food."
1,000 New Gardens has depended largely on student labor over the years. Beyond the core group of 10 or 15 members, Wise says, each designated "dig day" draws between 30 and 50 volunteers. The group hosts an average of two dig days a semester.
Smith and Badenoch have found creative ways to bankroll the effort over the years. In addition to donations, they've managed to hook up with other projects such as Missoula's Green Block Program, a city initiative offering free energy-efficient upgrades to select homeowners. The garden group's primary source of funding is its Coffee to Compost Program, which collects coffee grounds from local cafes using a bicycle trailer. "We charge them a small fee to remove their coffee ground waste, then we use those coffee grounds as compost for the gardens we install," Wise explains.
But the challenge for 1,000 New Gardens hasn't been funding; the costs of straw, compost, newspaper and topsoil for each 8-by-10 garden averages only $20. Nor has it been volunteer support.
"The biggest issue, I think, is finding people" who need gardens, Wise says. "I don't think many community members know about" 1,000 New Gardens.
So far they've limited their promotion to flyers and tables at community events. But the need to get the word out is growing. The group has two dig days scheduled this fall—Oct. 16 and Oct. 30—and co-founder Max Smith has since started a second branch of 1,000 New Gardens in Bozeman, where he now lives.
"It's a movement I hope will continue," co-founder Badenoch says. "I plan to stay with it and encourage and advise the people involved to continue with what they're doing.