OSU Extension Seed Giveaway Returns for 4th Year

The Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge, Oregon State University Extension's statewide seed giveaway, returns for a fourth year in 2023 featuring a continued partnership with the Oregon Potato Commission.

Starting Feb. 6, individuals and households, schools and groups can sign up to receive an individual/household seed kit, group kit or seed-starting teacher classroom kit through the mail.

The seed-starting classroom kits also include a 2023 Food Hero gardening calendar, stickers, foil pans, seed markers, a spray bottle and a peat pot for each child. Teachers can request a separate potato growing kit while supplies last.

The challenge is spearheaded by Food Hero, a statewide initiative of the Oregon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) program that was developed by OSU Extension in English and Spanish. This year's goal is to mail seed kits to 3,600 individuals or households, said Lauren Tobey, Food Hero coordinator.

The seed giveaway has been growing since it started in 2020. According to Tobey, an estimated 93,000 Oregonians participated in the 2022 Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge - an increase of 62% over the previous year. About 1,100 Oregon schools received classroom kits, and 3,600 individual/household seed kits were distributed.

Of the returning participants from the 2021 challenge, 73% said they planted seeds and 88% reported an increase in using their garden harvest in a meal, Tobey said.

"We want to grow food together and share gardening tips and experiences to learn together," Tobey said. "Food Hero's bottom-line goal is to increase fruit and vegetable intake and access among all Oregonians."

Throughout summer and fall, participants will receive a monthly Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge email with gardening information, harvest recipes and storage tips. Challenge information will also be available in English and Spanish on the Food Hero gardening page.

The individual/household kits will include a seed for a flower and seeds for vegetables that can be made into a salad. As they have been in the past, the seeds were donated to Extension by Bi-Mart Stores Inc. The kits also include a bookmark with a link with guidance on how to plant the seeds, either in the ground or in a container.

The continued partnership with the Oregon Potato Commission is the result of a second $175,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The Oregon Potato Commission collaboration will fund both the classroom and potato kits.

The Grow This! Garden Challenge originated with a donation in 2019 of 800 seed packets from Bi-Mart. Those packets were separated, counted and packaged to make 14,000 individual baggies to include in 3,500 seed kits, using the West Virginia University Extension Service Grow This! Challenge as a model.

Mandy Hatfield, Extension nutrition educator for Douglas County, said the original intent was to provide seeds for school gardens across the state. In 2020, Bi-Mart donated more packets, precipitating the need to further expand the program.

Since it launched in 2008, Food Hero has been used in communities and schools across Oregon, building children's cooking skills through sharing the recipes and sampling new foods.

Food Hero recipes are tested according to criteria, such as overall flavor, color and texture. The meals are low-cost and feature easy to find ingredients, easy to follow instructions and minimal preparation time. Recipes and cooking tips are also shared through a Food Hero monthly publication in Spanish and English.

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