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More gardens are available ‘to go’

Thanks to a generous donation from the Birdsong Trust Fund, Healthy Suffolk and Johnson’s Gardens Inc. are accepting even more applications for free “Gardens to Go.”

Families with children ages 18 and younger and older gardeners ages 60 and older can apply online to win Gardens to Go free of charge. Each Garden to Go includes a large container, soil mix, seeds, plants and fertilizer. Only Suffolk residents may apply.

The whole project started in mid-March, with 40 Gardens to Go made available for free, through funding from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. There was also an additional 15 Gardens to Go for families at local elementary schools through funding from the Suffolk Clean Community Commission, according to Shelley Barlow, director of healthy food initiatives for Healthy Suffolk.

The latest funding from the Birdsong Trust Fund has allowed for another 100 free Gardens to Go for select applicants. Healthy Suffolk started accepting applications early last week, and as of Tuesday afternoon, there’s still approximately 60 gardens available, Barlow said.

They’ve become popular among Suffolk residents who are staying at home and practicing social distancing. Barlow said members of the “Healthy Suffolk Digs” Facebook group have shared pictures of their children enjoying their new gardens, to go with the cheerful messages that she’s received from older gardeners.

“We’ve had a tremendous response from that,” Barlow said about the Facebook group. She said the group’s membership rose from roughly 70 members to more than 110 as of Tuesday. “I’ve gotten a lot of really nice emails from folks, like ‘thank you so much’ (and) ‘this is what we needed.’”

Residents can visit Johnson’s Gardens at 3201 Holland Road to collect their gardens, with easy curbside pickup to help encourage social distancing during the pandemic. Residents can call Johnson’s Gardens at 539-0293 to arrange pickup ahead of time, and employees will bring their Gardens to Go directly to their vehicles, if they want.

Tim Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Gardens, urged residents to keep practicing social distancing while they enjoy gardening during this pandemic.

“I want people to follow the rules as best they can follow the rules, so that they can stay safe,” Johnson said.

He said that the project has been “going very well” overall in the Suffolk community.

“We’re trying to get people in and out safely, and haven’t had any problems whatsoever. It’s been very, very well received,” Johnson said. “Everybody in the city should have a garden this year, is what it looks like.”

Qualifying families and seniors can apply to receive a Garden to Go free of charge by going online to the “Healthy Suffolk” Facebook group, or by visiting healthysuffolkva.org. Additional Gardens to Go are also available for purchase at Johnson’s Gardens for $20 each, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to Healthy Suffolk.

Families are encouraged to post photos of their gardening on social media, and to join the “Healthy Suffolk Digs” Facebook group for more gardening tips. Visit facebook.com/healthysuffolk for more information.