If this were what Corinne Lippie calls a "normal year," Gloucester's second graders would, under the aegis of Backyard Growers, be harvesting heaps of green leafy lettuces they'd started planting back in April. But as this, thanks to COVID19, has been anything but a normal year, Lippie —who is Backyard Growers' program director— says the citywide nonprofit "had to shift activities."

"Normally, these would be our 'salad days'," says Lippie, "but this spring, we're not able to keep with that annual tradition."

So this spring, instead of helping the second graders grow their own edible school gardens, Backyard Growers —with funding from, among others, Gloucester School system, Gloucester Education Foundation and Patagonia Inc. — is distributing 208 seeds-to-salads "Gro-Kits" to the city's second graders and their teachers. 

Each "salad days kit" — which over half of Gloucester's second graders have already received through two curbside pick-up days in May—  includes a 3-gallon custom Backyard Grower felt "grow bag," organic Coast of Maine potting soil, lettuce seeds, and simple, child-friendly instructions. Families who have yet to pick up their kits can do so through the Gloucester Public Schools' Administration Office at 2 Blackburn Drive, from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

Grow bags, which grew out of a pilot program developed by Backyard Growers to solve apartment dwellers' challenge of edible gardening without a garden, are also available in Backyard Growers’ online shop at www.backyardgrowers.org/our-shop. They are reusable, sell for $9.50 or more depending on the size/ The Salad Days Kit is also available, for 15.93, and, says Lippie, are a great interactive learning opportunity for kids homebound by the pandemic.

"It's a nice way to get them away from technology and get their hands in the dirt," says Lippie, who joined Backyard Growers a year ago after 15 years of nonprofit experience that included three with the Kennedy School at Harvard.  As project director at the North Shore United Way, she spearheaded an innovative new initiative on childhood obesity that dovetailed with the nutritional mission of Backyard Growers\ and eventually led to her joining the 10-year-old Gloucester-based nonprofit.  

More information is available by visiting www.backyardgrowers.org. Families may share their Salad Days growing experiences by using #SaladDaysGPS on social media and tagging Backyard Growers.

Joann MacKenzie may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or jomackenzie@gloucestertimes.com.

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