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The City Journals

Growing hope in the community

Oct 28, 2016 01:01PM ● By Briana Kelley

The Growing Hope Project also has a Sensory Garden Box for those suffering with poor vision, children and adults in wheelchairs, individuals with Autism and individuals with other physical or emotional disabilities. (Briana Kelley/City Journals)

By Briana Kelley | [email protected]

South Jordan, Utah - Keila Mower cares deeply about gardening and the community. She combined these two passions to create the Growing Hope Project, a community garden that donates produce to a local food pantry. Mower just finished her fifth successful growing season with the project, involving friends and community partners in the process.

“It’s my passion,” Mower said. “And I want to share it. I don’t want to do it on my own; I want to do it as a community and to inspire others. What a great thing if you use your love and your passion to inspire and serve others.”

Mower’s idea for a community garden first began five years ago. As a local Girl Scouts troop leader, Mower organized a garden plot so the girls could earn their gardening badge. When gardening was over, Mower did not want the produce to go to waste and did not feel comfortable keeping it for herself, so they donated it to the Food Bank in Salt Lake City.

After that first year, Mower was hooked. She reached out to her community association, and they donated plots for her next garden. Neighbors, friends and local Scout groups donated time and labor to plan, prepare and plant the gardens. Home Depot, Miller Company and other businesses donated seeds, tools and soil.

“It’s called the Growing Hope Project because when someone gets a tomato that we grew, that person is also getting the love and time and community that went into that tomato,” Mower said. “I want them to know that there is love, hope for humanity and hope for life, and that, in that moment, it’s going to be better. Someone is growing hope for you if you are in need.”

Initially, Mower donated to the food bank in Salt Lake City. Two years ago she learned about the St. Andrew Food Pantry, a local affiliate of the Utah Food Bank located in Riverton. Mower began donating produce there to better serve her neighbors. She now delivers fresh produce the same day it is picked.

So far, they have grown tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peppers, squash and herbs. Each year, the project grows too. Mower and her friends currently have 12 garden plots and multiple community partnerships.

Mower’s friend, Connie Mason, works for Utah Transit Authority. She is going to start a community garden for UTA employees in 2017. Volunteers throughout the season vary, but Mower says that about 20 people helped out this year.

“Different people helped throughout the season,” Mower said. “It’s not just me; it takes a lot of effort from different people to make the garden successful.”

Neighbors notably stepped up during the algae bloom that occurred in July this year. During the bloom, water was shut off to the garden plots. Mower reached out to community members for help. Four people donated 25-gallon containers and let Mower use water from their homes. She hand-watered the plots for a whole week to save the work that they had done.

During this time, Mower’s efforts caught the attention of Councilwoman Tamera Zander. Zander lives near the plots and let Mower and Mason use her hose to get water for the plants. She was impressed that they watered everyone’s gardens, not just her own. 

“That’s exceptional neighborliness; that’s exceptional service,” she said. “It wasn’t to get gain; it was just because they care. That’s the kind of ladies they are.” 

Zander hopes others can be inspired by the Growing Hope Project and perhaps start projects of their own.

“My opinion is, this is inspiring,” she said. “I would hope that when people hear about this, they would ask, ‘What could I do? Maybe there is some space in my yard or in my garden that I don’t really use any more, and I can grow zucchinis or tomatoes or squash and donate it to the food shelter.’ As people hear about this story, they can find ways to contribute and give back to their community because that’s so healthy and good for us.”

One thing is clear; community projects such as this would be impossible to continue without public involvement, according to Mower. She wanted to thank community partners and friends for their support, including Connie Mason, Stacy Tucker, Lidia Ordaz and her fifth grade class, Anna Sanders Bergevin, Waleska Valdez Luker, Micaela Tovo Libby, Jennifer Talkington, LiveDaybreak, Founders Park 5th Ward Boy Scouts, the Daybreak Homeowners Association, Miller Company, The Home Depot and other community members. 

“You can always do something beautiful and meaningful for someone else to provide hope and love for their neighbors,” Mower said. “Even if you don’t think you have something, you do.”