NMSU Extension Master Gardeners share tomato plants with community

ALBUQUERQUE – It may sound like a trick question: What do you do with 2,000 tomato plants when an in-person fundraiser sale is cancelled?

New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardeners in Bernalillo County were faced with this question when the state implemented a stay-at-home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, canceling the planned event after the volunteers raised 2,000 plants from seeds.

When the seeds were planted in February, the plans were for a sale the last week of April.

The tomato plants were part of the partnership between Dan Humbles, Albuquerque city horticulturist, and the Albuquerque Area Extension Master Gardener volunteers. They also planted hundreds of flower seeds. As these plants grew, their destination was planned for city parks and other city areas.

As the tomato plants sprouted, Master Gardener Kathy Clough, city greenhouse volunteer activity co-chair, began planning the annual fundraiser tomato plant sale.

“The plant sale is one of the Master Gardeners’ most significant activities as a fundraiser,” said Sara Moran, NMSU Extension horticulture agent in Bernalillo County. “It is usually held at the Albuquerque Garden Center.”

In the early days of the fast-changing response to the pandemic, plans were made to have a pre-paid drive-thru sale at the Bernalillo County Extension office at 1510 Menaul Blvd NW.

“Customers would be asked to come at a specific time according to their last name, drive through the office parking lot and their plants would be loaded into their vehicle,” Clough said.

As additional restrictions on in-person gatherings were implemented by the university administration, the drive-thru event was cancelled.

But what to do with the 2,000 plants was still the question at hand.

Clough came up with an answer – give them away.

“Kathy organized the giveaway with several programs adopting plants,” Moran said. “Kid gardening groups and Albuquerque’s Barrett House women and children shelter are a couple of the projects that took the plants.”

But there were still plants left. Three pickup truck loads of plants needed homes.

Master Gardener volunteers, who had cared for the plants, were invited to take what they wanted to share with others. But there were still more to give away.

During an April 22 telephone meeting with the Bernalillo County Community Service staff, Cindy Schlenker Davies, NMSU Bernalillo County Extension program director, shared the story about the plants in search of a garden.

Two days later, the plants were on the move from Albuquerque’s city greenhouses to the county extension office, where Bernalillo County staff members picked them up for distribution at the Grab and Go food sites on April 28 and 29.

“While the original plan did not work, we are happy to share these plants with county residents,” Moran said. “We recognize the many benefits of growing plants, and we are proud to support community gardening efforts. Who knows, some families may be gardening and growing their own tomatoes this year for the very first time.”

Author: Jane Moorman – NMSU


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