Need a green thumb? Volunteers can help

By ANGIE FORD/Montana State News

An offshoot of Network of Environmentally Conscious Organizations (NECO), 1,000 New Gardens believes that is just what the world needs. And “the world” isn’t an exaggeration. From Bozeman to Africa, a new wave of Liberty Gardens is sprouting up everywhere.

It all started in 2011 when Matt Smith started the 1,000 New Gardens organization, an MSU club that is an offshoot of NECO, to help families jump-start growing organic food for themselves.

The goals of the club take a three-pronged approach: help people reduce their grocery bills, build a sense of community and “[plant] the seed in people’s minds about sustainable gardening.” 1,000 New Gardens “is more of a community group than a student group,” Smith said.

The club provides free composted material to gardeners that can be used to help grow crops – but the process is a circular one: The Coffee to Compost program has linked arms with local coffee shops that provide coffee grounds and food scraps to make compost.

As it turns out, humans aren’t the only species that gets a boost from coffee. Purdue University’s gardening news website asks, “Do Johnny jump ups jibe with java?”  There have been a few companies studying the use of coffee grounds as a soil addition or compost.

“Coffee grounds are a low-level source of nitrogen, having a fertilizer value of around 2.0-0.3-0.2, as well as a minor source of calcium and magnesium,” says Rosie Lerner, extension consumer horticulturist at Purdue University. Post-brewed coffee grounds are slightly high in acid, but no more than peat moss.

Lerner says, “Composting is also an excellent method to recycle the grounds, which have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of around 20 to1. Use the grounds as you would green, leafy material, mixing with some dry, brown plant materials in the compost.”

Starbucks Coffee, one of the largest coffee chains in the U.S., began an initiative in 1995 to recycle their used grounds, offering a five-pound bag to their customers for use in their garden. But Starbucks claims to be restricted by community interest and programs that support recycling.

This sheds new light on the importance of the 1,000 New Garden initiative to building community awareness. Being environmentally aware is one thing, but putting it all together to create a full circle of community that includes coffee houses that want to provide their grounds for compost, consumers who want to take the time to use them, is another thing entirely.

The volunteers of 1,000 New Gardens and Coffee to Compost have accomplished this by creating interest and accessibility, bringing the waste together with those who can transform it into food.

And the revolution doesn’t stop at MSU or in Bozeman. The 1,000 New Gardens movement has inspired 1,000 Gardens Africa – now present throughout the African continent. Smith hopes to create a sister garden relationship between gardeners in Africa and Bozeman, where gardeners would become pen pals, sharing success stories from around the world.

Overall, Smith is happy with the fledgling club’s success: “People are taking their weekends to haul manure, and that is a testament, to me, that we’re on to something.”

For those who are interested in participating or finding more information, 1,000 New Gardens (and NECO) conducts meetings every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Northeast Lounge of the SUB on the MSU campus.

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