If you're thinking about making a year-end donation to a garden-focused organization, here are six that could use your help.
I've worked with all of them, in some capacity or another. Some, I know through grant programs that I've judged. Others, I know because Master Gardener volunteers support their efforts. I've sat on the board of one, and know most others from our mutual work on the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network. One, I've made my life's work. Most of them are too small to appear on CharityNavigator.org, but if a rating does exist, I've posted it next to the organization.
Growing Gardens: This amazing organization works with volunteers to install raised-bed vegetable gardens in the yards of low-income households. Those in apartments or with limited space receive container gardens. Recipients are then supported for 3-years, via a comprehensive educational program (that teaches them how to maintain and use their garden), seeds and starts, and access to garden mentors. This past fall, they just installed their 1000th garden!
Lettuce Grow: The Lettuce Grow ('Let Us Grow') Garden Foundation works to install organic vegetable gardens in correctional facilities across Oregon. In doing so, they help to keep the correctional facility food budget low, while providing healthy and fresh produce to inmates. Lettuce Grow also facilitates educational opportunities to inmates who work in the garden, by working with the Oregon Food Bank to deliver the Seed to Supper curriculum and by working with OSU Extension to deliver the Master Gardener curriculum in correctional facilities. Upon successful completion of the Master Gardener curriculum, students earn a Certificate of Home Horticulture ~ a valuable job credential that is of value upon their release. However, perhaps the most important benefits of the garden programs are their therapeutic effect. Working the land is healing ~ especially in the high stress environment of a correctional facility. And, education has the power to create positive social change ~ perhaps more than any other program that I know. To me, Lettuce Grow offers hope in a place that may often seem hopeless.
Oregon Food Bank: The Oregon Food Bank partners with OSU Extension to deliver a 5-week, comprehensive gardening course called Seed to Supper. This curriculum is taught to low income individuals and families ~ teaching them how to grow their own food and to use the harvest in freshly-prepared and healthy meals. Oregon Food Bank has 3 out of 4 stars on Charity Navigator, with a 70 out of 70 for transparency and accountability, and with 94% of their budget being spent directly on programs.
Food Roots: I first learned of Food Roots, when they applied for a grant that OSU was offering for school and community gardens. I was impressed with their application, and even more impressed when I visited their community and school gardens throughout Tillamook County. They work to support a vibrant food system across Tillamook County ~ via their support of community and school gardens, educational outreach, and micro-enterprise endeavors. Right now, they're holding a drive to raise funds to build three high-tunnel hoop houses that will be used to hold training classes on how to grow a diversity of fruits and vegetables in the cool climate of the North-Central Coast. Honestly, I'm amazed at what Shelly Bowe has done in a few short years. She is a force of good!
School Garden Project of Lane County: This organization teaches kids about gardening, through in-school lessons and after school gardening clubs. They assist schools in putting in fruit orchards, or starting a cafeteria composting program. They also also created a garden-based curriculum for use in elementary schools.
OSU Extension Master Gardener Program: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the organization where I work. We work to train volunteers, who then go on to share what they learned about sustainable gardening with others. We currently have over 4,000+ volunteers who field close to 200,000 gardening questions each year. Surveys show that our volunteers and our programs make a difference and promote more sustainable gardening practices. For example, after participating in our programs or using our services, our clients report that they will decrease or eliminate their pesticide use (68% of those surveyed), work to attract beneficial insects to their gardens (64%), or that they are more tolerant of insect pests (58%) or early flowering lawn weeds (60%). Those with pest problems report that they intend to switch to more pest resistant cultivars (75%), further decreasing the need for pesticides. Your dollars can be allocated to support the statewide Master Gardener Program, or to any of the county Extension offices in Oregon with active Master Gardener Programs. Those few counties with online donation pages are listed, below ~ but you can also go into your local Extension office to make a donation to your local Extension Endowment Fund or Master Gardener Association Chapter.