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Faculty and Staff

Grow Box Gets Kids Growing — Fall Vegetables, That Is

Seven-year-old boy poses with the container garden on his deck
Seven-year-old Charles explores his new at-home container garden.

November 4, 2020  |  Staff  |  Edit This

Family life tends to run in constant motion — errands to finish, school work to complete, sports and hobbies to enjoy. The hectic pace that comes with children can make it hard to slow down, spend time with each other and celebrate cherished relationships. Enter the Grow Box. 

The Grow Box is an NC State University program that sends hands-on agriculture projects directly to families and contains everything a parent and child need to start exploring the world of plants, bugs and soils together. One hundred boxes, costing $30 each, were sent to families in 32 North Carolina counties.

Liz Driscoll, a 4-H specialist with NC State Extension, and Elizabeth Overcash, the children’s program coordinator with the JC Raulston Arboretum, came up with the idea. 

The Grow Box provides a platform to step away from electronic devices and drives youth to investigate the outdoors.

“With the pandemic bringing a pause on in-person programming we wondered how we could continue to support families in their garden discoveries,” Driscoll said. “Research surveys suggest that daily screen time has increased with virtual education and recreation demands, so the Grow Box provides a platform to step away from electronic devices and drives youth to investigate the outdoors.”

Driscoll and Overcash also wanted to continue to nurture the relationship between families to the arboretum and local 4-H programs. The Grow Box supports families already involved in 4-H and with the JCRA, and it also invites new families to understand how the two organizations nurture positive youth development.

With support from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agricultural Foundation’s Innovation Grant, the two started with some seed money to craft the first Grow Box on fall vegetable gardening. Mailed out in September, the box had veggie and herb transplants, seeds, gardening gloves, a trowel and an activity magazine that had everything a family needs to get growing.

Fans From the Start

The Bruce family, of Raleigh, ordered a Grow Box for their seven-year-old son, Charles, to pique his interest in gardening. His older sister, Virginia, came to love gardening after participating in JCRA programs. The Grow Box became a way for the two of them to work together on projects. Charles was willing to dig right into planting with his garden gloves and trowel and has stuck with it, going out on breaks from virtual school to check on his plants.

From seed collecting to seed germination, we loved it.

His mom, Emily, said, “I really don’t know what to plant and when, so the magazine was really helpful, with so much information and the activities laid out just for you.”

From seed collecting to germination, we loved it.

Emily appreciated the wide variety of activities that could be done. For example, the Bruces were gratified by seeing microgreen seeds sprout and are learning patience in waiting to harvest the vegetables. As Emily said, “We all learned so much. From seed collecting to seed germination, we loved it.”

Testimonials from other participants attest to the difference the Grow Box program is making:

  • Cabarrus Extension 4-H Program Associate Beverly Bollenbocker provided Grow Boxes for youth in an afterschool program. One of her participants, Brooklyn, said, “My favorite plant was the super greens. The thing that I like most about it was the part about learning how to grow an herb or veggie. My advice would be using just enough water, not too much to drown the seeds.”
  • Shaelyn, another participant in the afterschool program, shared, “I enjoyed all the herbs and veggies that were in the box. My favorite part was planting the cabbage in the ground. I also liked the sticks that came with the kit to label each one of the herbs or veggies. Thank you so much for letting us use the Grow Box. We enjoyed it as a family. I think this Grow Box would benefit many other families to have family time and learn new things about herbs and veggies.”
  • Lauren Dail, Pitt County 4-H agent, ordered a Grow Box for her niece. Khloe gushed, “I really enjoyed this project because I got to watch stuff grow and I learned that I had to take care of the plants by watering them, but not too much! We learned that with the carrots! It was fun to see if something new would pop up each day! I get excited to see what is growing every time we go look!”

Keeping Families Playing and Planting Together

The Grow Box helps families spend time together learning and doing. Here, Shaelyn (left) and other family members look at seeds.

Driscoll and Overcash hope that the Grow Box will increase youth interest in agriculture and encourage them to do more to grow their understanding and appreciation of the natural world. As Overcash said, “We hope it brings a little bit of the JC Raulston Arboretum and North Carolina 4-H to their homes during the pandemic and keeps families playing and planting together.”

Their next box, focused on plant propagation, is ready to be ordered. Families will create a succulent garden, propagate succulent leaves, make cuttings from houseplants, scale lily bulbs and dig into seed propagation with a variety of seeds. They have more fun and learning lined up this winter with a focus on evergreens and plant products and pollinators. 

To participate in the Grow Box program, register through Eventbrite.