MERIDIAN, Idaho — Summer conditions yield bountiful backyard vegetable gardens in Idaho, but one joint effort in Meridian is feeding families all across the Treasure Valley.
The Meridian Co-Op Garden near Kleiner Park has been busting out thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables every summer for the past ten years. It's a collective effort of 32 local families who pitch in at the start of the season and dedicate a few hours of hard work each week weeding, pruning, and picking produce.
“The kids have learned so much, just about plants and how they grow,” Tianna Hagglund said.
Hagglund and her children have spent most Saturday mornings volunteering in the garden for the past two summers.
"They were adamant once we started working here that they needed their own garden. A shared family garden at home wasn't enough!" Hagglund said. "They needed their own space that they could pick their own plants and take care of them, and harvest it themselves."
At the Co-Op garden, Juli Bokenkamp has taken the lead for the last nine years making sure everything goes smoothly.
"My heartbeat is to feed children fresh produce," Bokenkamp said. "Usually there are kids just running up and down the aisles of the garden. They love picking the produce."
A huge part of the garden is teaching these families about where food comes from and the kids are involved every step of the way.
“Today they're learning all about pollinators. They are using butterfly nets to try to catch something," Bokenkamp said. "They’ve caught a moth or two and I think a few bumblebees!"
The City of Meridian provides land, water, and equipment for the community garden.
Families involved in the garden meet up on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings to harvest hundreds of pounds of squash, peppers, melons, onions, and so much more.
"Sometimes when we’re picking the food for us to take home, [the kids] are very aware of that and are like, 'Okay, let’s just take two so that one can go to the food bank for someone that needs it.' And it’s just sweet to hear stuff like that," Hagglund said.
After each family selects their items for the week, the leftovers are loaded up and delivered to local food banks. They donate about 8,000 pounds of produce every year.
Through the pandemic last year, the garden was deemed essential since they provide food to the community. Bokencamp says it gave families peace and a sense of normalcy while wading in uncharted territory.
"This was a mental health sanctuary," Bokencamp said. "I think not only for our gardeners but for people walking by. It was a place to go. It was a date on the calendar for us when our calendars were cleared."
Although most families started out as strangers they're now an organically grown tight-knit gardening community.
"We share recipes with each other, we've become friends," Bokencamp said. "We hike together, we walk together, we see movies together, we go to coffee together."
There is a waiting list to participate in the garden but you can always follow along with their progress on their Facebook page here.