MISSOULA — While the cost of gas, airline fares, even apparel has plummeted in light of COVID-19, a trip to the grocery store nowadays is a whole new source of stress.
The US Department of Labor announced in its April report that groceries hit their largest monthly increase since February of 1974. In order to stretch your dollar and keep your fridge full, we’re recommending the age-old alternative to buying food, and that’s growing your own.
Garden City Harvest's Emily Kern Swaffar says her team has seen a surge of Missoulians seeking their gardening help since the pandemic hit -- and if you want to create some food resiliency of your own, she says it’s not too late.
“Theoretically, next week it's just going to be getting warmer and warmer so it's a great time to plant tomatoes, basil, peppers, cucumbers, zucchinis, and then you can still plant all of those other cooler season crops like lettuce and spinach, peas, beets, carrots, kale, broccoli. Any of those will do really well now.”
Because of our short growing season here in Montana, Kern Swaffar recommends planting with as many starts or transplants as you can. When buying those plants, check out a local nursery or farmers market so you can support your neighbors while you’re at it.
"There are local farmers that are selling the starts that they're growing in their fields, so we know that they're going to do well here," she told MTN News adding that people don’t need a big garden plot or even a backyard to grow your own produce.
“There are some plants, some crops that do better in containers, they tend to be smaller and more compact, but you can grow tomatoes, you can grow herbs in containers, zucchinis do pretty well in containers. I also like sowing lettuce or spinach or greens like salad mix in containers," Kern Swaffar explained.
She suggests adding fertilizer and compost to container crops to keep them hardy and remember to use a container that will allow your crops plenty of room to grow.
In addition to saving you a little money on produce and helping you become more self-sufficient, the act of gardening can give you a mental break from everything happening around us.
“Gardening provides us so many different benefits," Kern Swaffar said. "One is that ability to get out of our house and do something outside that is meaningful, and one is the joy of physical work and working in the soil and getting our minds off of all the stresses and anxieties that this pandemic is bringing.”
Garden City Harvest offers a handful of resources, from virtual workshops to Q and As on their social media pages. Each Tuesday at 3 p.m., they even live stream on their Facebook page from the Providence Hospital Garden.
Kern Swaffar recommends looking into the following online resources for more gardening help:
- Garden City Harvest: https://www.gardencityharvest.org/
- MSU Extension: https://www.msuextension.org/yard.html
- Free seeds: https://www.missoulapubliclibrary.org/5valleys
- Curbside tool loans: https://mudproject.org/curbside-tool-loan-information/