Alabama Extension serving communities through pop-up gardens

BY Katie Nichols
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Posted 7/26/23

AUBURN UNIVERSITY — The Grow More, Give More project — led by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests team — has been impacting Alabamians for …

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Alabama Extension serving communities through pop-up gardens


AUBURN UNIVERSITY — The Grow More, Give More project — led by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests team — has been impacting Alabamians for the better since 2020.

Each year, the project has reached new heights with increased services for underserved communities. In 2023, a grant from the Alabama Association of RC&D Councils allowed home grounds agents — along with Master Gardeners and community volunteers — to serve communities facing food insecurity in a creative and impactful way.


Bethany O'Rear, GMGM project coordinator, said they began the year with intentions of making a difference in the lives of senior citizens living in Alabama's food deserts. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as an area in which at least 33% of a low-income area's population lives anywhere from one to 10 miles from a supermarket or grocery store. Approximately 2 million Alabamians live in a food desert, according to a 2020 report.

Senior Citizens in Alabama

According to the Alabama Aging Statistics and Resource Guide, 23% of the Alabama population is 60 or older. This aging population is often uniquely affected by food deserts because of limited transportation options, strong attachments to local neighborhoods, fixed incomes, physical limitations in food shopping and chronic health problems.

O'Rear said senior citizens on fixed income are hit especially hard by inflation. After paying for basic necessities, fresh vegetables are considered a luxury by some. While this should not be the case, this is the reality for many senior citizens in Alabama.


"This year, we were able to do something different and work with communities to put in pop-up gardens," O'Rear said. "These gardens were a compact, portable way to take fresh and nutritious vegetables to senior citizens across the state."

Pop-up gardens included planting buckets, grow bags, irrigation drip kits and necessary seed or soil, which was delivered by a regional Extension agent. The gardens were portable by design and made on a scale to encourage similar efforts by senior citizens at home.

"The thought is that participating seniors may not plant eight buckets like the pop-up garden, but they may be willing to try two buckets at home," O'Rear said. "These gardens are an opportunity for them to learn and hopefully encourage them to try gardening at home as well."


O'Rear said this year was full of teachable moments for both GMGM pop-up garden volunteers and participants. Volunteers had opportunities to talk about planting late as a result of early-season rains.

"This was a wonderful opportunity to highlight a key trait for seasoned and novice gardeners—flexibility," O'Rear said. "Even in smaller gardens, there are challenges. It's important to be flexible and resourceful."

She said there was not one area of the state that was more excited than the others. There was excitement statewide, with invested volunteers and senior citizens.

"The pop-up gardens are great to exercise that green thumb if you are out of practice," she said. "It's also a perfect introduction for seniors who have never gardened before."


The mission of the Alabama Association of RC&D Councils is to secure and enhance social and economic benefits for people across Alabama. It is a valued supporter of Alabama Extension. The GMGM project has received essential funding resources from the RC&D Councils since 2021. Their assistance has allowed Extension's home grounds team to impact many lives across the state.

"The partnership between Alabama Extension and the Alabama Association of RC&D Councils reflects our mutual desire to combat food insecurity," O'Rear said. "We are fortunate to have the opportunity to serve senior citizens in Alabama food deserts. In addition to teaching gardening skills and harvesting fresh produce, our wish is to sow seeds of success. Thanks to this partnership, GMGM can do just that."


The summer gardening season is almost over, but O'Rear said pop-up gardens will continue through the fall with lettuce and other fall vegetable crops. To learn more about the program, visit the Grow More, Give More section of Alabama Extension's website,