How to make fresh produce available to everyone in your community

Get info on the Aetna Foundation's grants for community gardens, urban farms, and farmer's markets

Get info on the Aetna Foundation's grants for community gardens, urban farms, and farmer's markets

I live in a small, suburban town that is thought of as a generally well-off area. But what many people do not know is that we have a food pantry that serves a surprising chunk of our population. The clients of the pantry include moms and kids in temporary housing, elderly people, and families who are financially struggling for a range of reasons.

The pantry gives out a huge range of items: canned food, fresh bread and meats, frozen foods, toiletries, and more. And in the summer, thanks in large part to our town’s community garden, the pantry gives out fresh produce to many people who couldn’t afford or access it otherwise.

My town has a lot of land—until relatively recently in its history, it was more rural than suburban—so it was probably not too difficult to create a community garden that helps benefit our food pantry. But even in cities where land seems scarce, community gardens are more than possible, and desperately needed to help supply fresh produce to local residents.

Think about it: How would you get fresh produce if you lived more than a mile from a grocery store? More than 23 million Americans are in this situation. What if your kids’ only source of produce was their school lunches—what happens in the summer when school’s out? This is a real concern for the 15.8 million children who live in food-insecure households.

Community gardens are a great solution to these problems. They supply healthy food in areas where it can be hard to come by, help educate people about healthy eating, and bring people together. That’s why the Aetna Foundation’s Local Roots program is giving out $1 million in $25,000–$50,000 grants to organizations that want to create or expand community gardens, urban farms, and/or farmer’s markets in underserved communities.

If you’re a part of a 501(c)(3) group—a school, church, state/local government agency, a public university, or community organization—you’re eligible!

Does this idea sound a little intimidating? Need some inspiration about what you could do? Check out these five examples of successful urban agriculture or these three other examples. And check out these past Aetna Foundation grant recipients (a bunch are focused on urban agriculture). Regular people around the world are transforming vacant lots, rooftops, and abandoned areas into thriving gardens, and with the Aetna Foundation’s help, you can, too.

The Aetna Foundation is awarding grants for community gardens, urban farms, and farmer's markets!Program details

1. All proposed programs must include one of the following:

– Nutrition education or cooking classes focused on the health benefits of fresh produce

– Growth or distribution of produce that reflects the food traditions of the target area

– Opportunities to learn job skills or entrepreneurship within the context of gardens, farms or farmers markets

– Opportunities for community service or volunteer work with the project

2. You must be an organization with 501(c)(3) status to apply, or a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor can apply on your behalf (get the nitty-gritty details here).

3. Proposal deadline: May 6, 2015 at 5 p.m. ET.

Make fresh fruits and vegetables locally available, accessible, and affordable to your community with the Aetna Foundation’s help! Visit the Aetna Foundation to learn how you can get involved, and join the conversation on Twitter by searching for the hashtag #GoLocalGrants.

I’ve partnered with the Aetna Foundation and The Motherhood on this sponsored post, but as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. See my disclosure policy here.

[Tweet “Schools and nonprofits: #Grants for community urban gardens and farmer’s markets! #golocalgrants”]

7 Tips for Creating a Colorful Shade Garden

7 tips to create a colorful shade garden

How to create a colorful shade garden

Something you may not know about me: I love to garden.

When I have a little time to myself and I’m not doing blogging stuff, I’m getting down and dirty in my yard.

I grew up with a big sunny yard, and to me, sun = gardening. I didn’t even know you could garden in the shade.

So when I moved into my house, I was dismayed that much of my backyard was shady. What in the world could I do with all the empty, mulched, weedy beds that the previous owners obviously gave up on?

I delved into the world of shade gardening and quickly learned that shade doesn’t have to equal boring, green plants. The key is to anchor your garden bed with some great perennials that come back year after year, then fill in with colorful annuals. Voila! A pretty, colorful shade garden!

Here are my Top 7 Tips for planning an impressive and low-maintenance shade garden:

1. In the beginning, invest in lots of good, dark mulch. When you’re first starting out, you’ll need a good amount of mulch in your garden beds, as many perennials take a few years to fill in. Dark mulch lets your plants and flowers really pop, keeps weeds at bay, and looks natural as your plants grow. Now that I have more mature plants I need less mulch, and I can even get by mulching most areas every other year – which saves a lot of money.

Bonus tip: Wherever you have large open areas, put down a couple layers of newspaper and wet it down with your hose before spreading your mulch. You will get practically zero weeds!

2. Think about your soil. If you have crummy soil, your plants won’t thrive. Good soil is pretty dark and crumbly, but will briefly clump together if you squeeze it. If your soil seems poor, an easy fix is to buy packaged organic compost and work it into your soil where you are going to plant.

3. Remember that hostas are your (colorful) friend. When most people think about hostas, they think about boring green leafy plants. But those people are wrong! Hostas come in colors such as yellow, blue, and pale green. They can be variegated or solid. They can have rounded wavy leaves or thin, narrow leaves. And they can be miniature in size or even reach five feet tall! Plus, some hostas have beautiful, fragrant flowers. They are an excellent anchor for your shade garden and require almost no maintenance at all. See below for just a few examples of different hostas from my own garden.

Colorful variety of hostas

4. Look for perennials on good gardening websites. It’s worth it to buy from a reputable catalog, website, or local garden nursery as opposed to a big-box store or bargain catalog. Over the past ten years I’ve bought slightly more expensive perennials and shrubs from White Flower Farm and perennials from the big-box home improvement store. Guess which ones are still around and thriving?

5. Supplement with inexpensive annuals. This is where you can cheap out a little. I like to buy flats of pale purple impatiens (around here, that’s eight 6-packs or eight 4-packs of flowers) and spread them around in my woodsy area. I like the contrast of the purple against my green, yellow, and blue hostas, and my yellow-flowered archangel.

6. If you have some morning sun, consider hydrangeas. These are my absolute favorite shrubs, and I find that many varieties flourish with morning sun and plenty of afternoon shade. My favorite one is called Vanilla Strawberry and sports lacy flowers that start white, turn to light pink, and then to dark pink. It really brightens up a partially shady area on the side of my house.

7. Add character with statues, fountains, and more. This is a great way to fill in bare spots  due to still-growing perennials. In my gardens right now I have a bird bath, stepping stones, and some cute ceramic animals my kids painted. I also have a perfect spot for a water fountain – just deciding on which one to order!

Now what plants should you actually put in your gardens? Here are some of my favorites:

Shade perennials: (1) Astilbe (2) Archangel (3) Hosta (4) Heuchera (5) Pulmonaria (6) Bleeding Heart (7) Variegated Hosta. Most of these plants come in many colors, especially Astilbe and Heuchera. I also love Ferns, Brunneria, and Solomon’s Seal.

Colorful shade perennials

Shade annuals: These plants, all of which come in many colors, are annuals for me in the Northeast: (1) double Impatiens; (2) Coleus; (3) Caladium; (4) traditional Begonias; (5) Polka Dot Plant; (6) Lobelia; (7) Viola. I also love Fuchsia, traditional Impatiens, and huge Begonias that look like roses. If you have partial shade, Snapdragon, Salvia, and Nicotiana can do well, but they do need some sun.

Colorful shade annuals

Any time in summer is a great time to get started on your shade garden. In fact, in late summer you can get some great bargains on perennials that look past their prime at that moment, but will come back strong next year.

Do you have any questions about shade gardening? I’d be happy to answer them for you – and if I don’t know, I can point you in the right direction!

Pin me to your gardening or DIY board!

7 tips to create a colorful shade garden

*Shade perennial photos by JD Bailey except these via photo pin cc: (2) bill barber (5) beautifulcataya (6) Gene Wilburn.
**Shade annual photos by (1) J.G. in S.F. (2) mbgrigby (3) Gertrud K. (4) wintersoul1 (5) TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) (6) mbgrigby (7) Parvin ♣ – all via photopin cc.

How to increase your curb appeal on a budget – and win $100 to do it!

Before curb appeal picture

Wayfair giveaway PinterestYou’ve heard of curb appeal, right? It’s all about making the exterior of your home attractive and inviting.

There are tons of websites and tv shows that can help you increase your curb appeal. But the majority of their suggested projects require big budgets and big time commitments that most of us can’t do.

But guess what? You can up your curb appeal inexpensively. And I’m going to give you a chance to do it with a $100 gift card to Wayfair, an amazing online home goods store!

How to easily increase your curb appeal? COLOR!

I have pretty gardens around my house. I love color and texture and all things naturally beautiful. But if you took a look at my front porch a week ago, you’d never know it.

I put all this effort into the gardens along the walkway, but then once you walked up to my front door? Blah. It’s like the gardens beckoned you in and then the front door said – Um, I don’t think so. Go away.

 Before curb appeal picture

Total lack of curb appeal.

So I decided to add a pop of color – but I had to do it on a budget. Happily, Wayfair provided me with a gift card (I’m a part of their Homemakers program) and I went to work.

First off: Get rid of the blah, brown, uninviting doormat. I wanted something bright and happy. These were my top three contenders:

Wayfair doormats

1. Humming Birds Doormat  |  2. Margo Coir Doormat  |  3. Sweet Home Poppies Doormat

Next: Some gorgeous containers to hold some bright, happy flowers. After browsing all the possibilities, I decided to go with the CobraCo “Canterbury” collection:

Wayfair CobraCo Canterbury Collection

4. Round Scroll Top Plant Stand  |  5. Round Hanging Basket  |  6. Round Floor Planter 

Everything arrived in a few days and I couldn’t wait to get going. I bought some flowers and also found a pretty, inexpensive hummingbird feeder. Grabbed my bag of soil and gardening tools, and it was time to get to work!

I had my sweet little helper assisting me.  🙂


In about half an hour my boring, blah porch was transformed into a welcoming, happy space without spending a ton of money. What an improvement – and now I actually want to sit on that bench!

After curb appeal picture - a pop of color

Want to give your home some curb appeal, or perhaps add some color somewhere else in your house?

Enter to win a $100 Wayfair gift card!

To enter, just leave a comment below with a link to an item on Wayfair that you would use for a pop of color in your home! Sadly, if you live in Florida, New York, or Rhode Island, laws in your state prevent you from entering this contest. But all of you in other 47 states? You’re golden.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you to Wayfair for providing a gift card for me and another to give away. I always give my honest opinion in my sponsored posts – my name is Honest Mom, after all. See my disclosure policy here.