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Bemidji teen's gardening program continues to flourish

Despite the bitter Minnesota cold, Bemidji homeschool senior Bridget Westrum hopes that her Growing Our Future free youth gardening initiative will continue to sprout.

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Each indoor herb garden kit will include a rectangular herb pot, a spray bottle for watering, seven to 10 seed varieties, soil, wooden plant markers, a grow light bulb and instructions. Contributed

BEMIDJI -- Despite the bitter Minnesota cold, Bemidji homeschool senior Bridget Westrum hopes that her Growing Our Future free youth gardening initiative will continue to sprout.

After the program’s first distribution cycle last March when around 135 youth received “starter garden” kits, Westrum is aiming to distribute 200 indoor herb gardening kits in the coming weeks with the hopes of creating a new generation of young gardeners.

“Through these kits, youth will learn more about themselves, patience and the vast gardening community around them,” Westrum said. “This is our second kit cycle since the birth of this program and it won’t be our last.”

Westrum started the program after taking up backyard gardening during summer 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic causing her to spend more time at home. After receiving much community support, donations and a grant from the Minnesota Youth Council to support the first round of distribution, she wanted to continue the “green gifting.”

Hence, another kit cycle was born.

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This time around

Westrum's inspiration came from wanting to provide indoor gardening options to those limited by Minnesota's cool temperatures and limitations in land availability in the city.

The indoor kits will include a rectangular herb pot, a spray bottle for watering, seven to 10 seed varieties, soil, wooden plant markers, a grow light bulb and instructions. They are available for anyone 18 years or younger who is interested in learning more about gardening and come with the added benefit of doing so from the comfort of their homes or apartments.

With regards to a tentative distribution date, Westrum mentioned, “the earlier this month, the better. As of right now, I’m just working on finding a building for distribution. Last year, we used the Target parking lot. Now, it’s a bit cold for that.”

Westrum’s participation in Grow Bemidji , a Facebook group of experienced area gardeners, allowed each youth recipient to call one of 15 volunteers to assist them with gardening over the phone last year. She’s in the process of recruiting some of these members to continue the favor and perhaps enlist more volunteers this time around.

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Bemidji homeschool senior Bridget Westrum is aiming to distribute 200 indoor herb gardening kits in the coming weeks in an effort to create a new generation of young gardeners. Contributed

“I connect with both Grow Bemidji and Growing Our Future because all gardeners, experienced or new, need to get together for the great things we can do together,” Westrum said. “Great things happen when things come together.”

Westrum set her sights on a $3,000 donation goal for the indoor kits, which was about one-third fulfilled as of October.

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Admittedly, Westrum always seeks donations with expenses tallying up to keep the operation running, so the donation goal fluctuates.

“I keep redoing fundraisers. If there’s a brochure that needs to be created, I need to pay for that. I’m running Facebook and Instagram ads. In short, I keep coming up with expenses,” she added.

In addition to more financial backing and supplies, Westrum is currently seeking additional storage space to house kit supplies and soil bags.

“Half of one side of my family’s barn is filled floor to ceiling with boxes that have pots in huge packages,” Westrum said. “I’ve been watching Facebook Marketplace for other space that will be cheaper to use.”

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Bridget Westrum is currently seeking additional storage space to house kit supplies and soil bags. Contributed

Continued support

With the ultimate goal of Growing Our Future becoming a nonprofit, Westrum is looking ahead to upcoming kit cycles along with the continued expansion of the program.

“Once we evolve a bit more, I would like to make youth more involved with hands-on volunteer work with the environment," she said. "We’d be looking at things like creating a pollinator garden or researching the land around town, planting wildflower seeds or native plants. Really just make Bemidji a pollinator haven.”

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Westrum applied for a second grant through the Minnesota Youth Council that would help pay for another round of starter kits to be distributed later this spring. In addition, she’s in the process of creating an Indiegogo campaign for monetary donations.

Interested donors can also donate to the Growing Our Future GoFundMe account or by mail at P.O. Box 753 Bemidji, MN 56619.

Also accepted are physical donations including recycled pots, new gardening supplies, indoor pots and soil among other items.

Interested kit recipients can find a Google sign-up form on growingourfuturemn.com and on the Growing Our Future Facebook and Instagram pages.

All youth are eligible for kits on a first-come, first-serve basis and those who don’t immediately receive a kit will be placed on a waiting list. Kits can be requested for up to five different people per form entry.

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