Name of Intervention/ Program
Grow This: West Virginia Garden Challenge

Background and Situation Analysis
Increasing individual and community agency has been proposed as a necessary addition to the pillars in the food security framework as it addresses structural inequalities that prevent individuals from becoming active “food citizens”. Improved community agency has been associated with improvements to both food security and nutrition. The Diffusion of Innovations theory describes the social process through which new information is shared between two or more individuals who share some commonalities, such as education, status or beliefs or are members of the same organization. Peer networking is one mechanism by which organizations can stimulate innovation. Innovators and early adopters serve as opinion leaders who role model and communicate the behavior through a network such as social media. (Kaminski, 2011) 

Gardening offers a natural fit for an intervention that can engage individuals, organizations and communities with the food system. Individuals who garden have been found to have higher levels of neighborhood attachment as it is an accessible activity that can be done by individuals regardless of age, income, race or ethnic background, and is a physical space that can stimulate social interactions with family, friends and neighbors. (Comstock et al., 2010) Gardening is associated with greater neighborhood attachment which is associated with increased collective efficacy making engagement in gardening an ideal outlet for priming civic engagement around the topic of food. 

Priority Audiences(s)
The priority audience is low-income families who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other assistance programs or groups who predominantly serve low income audiences. This year, the campaign seeks to target community leaders to engage in activities and dialogue around nutrition and food security. 

Behavioral Objectives
Grow This  was initially launched with the intent of increasing behaviors such as home gardening, fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity. As the program has evolved, a virtual community has been created which is now being engaged in civic engagement through the integration of challenges with the Grow This Throwdown. 

Description of Strategy/Intervention
Grow This , a campaign promoting home gardening, was launched in 2018 by the West Virginia University Extension Family Nutrition Program (WVFNP). Grow This engages individuals in the campaign by “signing up” to receive free seeds. Participants could be any individual or organization residing in West Virginia. In addition to free seeds, education is provided through a printed educational brochure sent with the seeds, an email newsletter, through digital platforms (Facebook/YouTube) and through hands-on demonstrations provided by WVFNP staff and partners. The campaign had a slow start but got a jumpstart in 2020 with the onset of the COVID pandemic when participation increased over 4,000% from around 300 sign ups a year to over 26,000. Since 2018, over 350,000 people have been reached through the seed giveaway or through community engagement activities. Grow This communicates with its community through a robust social media presence, with more than 18,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook combined. Its weekly email newsletter, which sends garden “to-do” lists as well as updates about the program, boasts more than 40,000 subscribers. Local educators also promote gardening through Grow This educational events where garden techniques are demonstrated.

While education and enjoyment were the top motivators for participation in Grow This prior to COVID, a shift in motivations to self-sufficiency and family engagement demonstrated a shift in thinking about gardening brought about as the pandemic tested the resilience of the food system. (McCartney et al., 2022) As the imminent threat to health associated with COVID has receded, the economic threat of inflation and high food prices in combination with ends to food related pandemic relief programs looms. The current atmosphere of economic uncertainty paired with an increased interest in self-sufficiency make it an ideal time to launch an intervention aimed at arming individuals and communities with education and resources for building a localized, resilient, and sustainable food system.

The Grow This Throwdown, launched in January 2024, has been conceptualized as a strategy to generate community storytelling within WVU Extension faculty and staff around gardening, nutrition, and food security through county vs. county challenges. County Extension teams will earn points through activities from helping to integrate produce into school meals, teaching a gardening workshop or developing systems for collecting and donating excess crops to food pantries. Counties will be placed in 3 divisions based on population size. The county with the highest points in each county will win a $5,000 grant for a community project. The challenges will act to reward and reinforce those in the organization supporting the outreach through an online leaderboard and map of activities. Challenge reporting through a centralized data collection process will allow for collective reporting of reach and impact such as the # of pounds of produce grown, donated, or incorporated into meals, at the county and state level. Pulling from CIT, we theorize the competition will engage a broader range of individuals in storytelling around food access work thus increasing collective efficacy. A pre and post assessment of collective efficacy will be collected prior to and at completion of the campaign. Evaluation of the reach and outcomes will be generated through the reporting of challenges. 

This project attempts to build collective efficacy by uniting existing agriculture and nutrition outreach under the common goal of nutrition security and the Grow This campaign. Some scientists have posited that the largest return on the public and private investment will be from DI research focused on translating currently available research on to public health. (Estabrooks et al., 2018) Integration of DI research into existing action research being conducted through Extension allows for the potential for a sustained source of funding and trained professionals embedded within communities through which practice-based evidence can be collected, disseminated, and replicated. The Grow This social media channels and email newsletter are also used to issue new challenges for the Grow This Throwdown. We have also encouraged participants to start county team Facebook groups so community members can communicate and coordinate their efforts. 

The program launched in January 2024 when the sign-up survey for free seeds was launched. A content plan was created that consists of graphic and short form video content. It details a plan to launch a variety of challenges throughout the growing season that will drive engagement. The challenges are designed to guide participants through the growing season and get them involved in increasing food access in their communities. Participants will track their progress on an online leaderboard.

Evaluation Methods and Results

Each year, Grow This Participants complete an enrollment survey using a Qualtrics survey which collects basis demographic information (age, education, income, participation in nutrition assistance, food security status), gardening experience and motivation for participation. In 2024, almost 11,000 individuals/households and 254 organizations signed up for Grow This. With 40% being first time participants. A majority of participants are white (94%), females (79%), age 25-54 (63%) with less than a college degree (56%) and some gardening experience (48%). The top 3 reasons for participating are increased food security/self reliance (27%), increase fruit and vegetable consumption (19%) and reduced grocery bills (12%). 

With the launch of the Grow This Throwdown, additional data points will be collected including participation in challenges. Participants report their completed Grow This Throwdown challenges through an online survey. These points are then tallied, and leaderboards are published on social media. Though the Throwdown has only been active since January, and there have already been four challenges and eight “Throwdown Thursday” gardening lessons hosted. Over 42,000 points have been awarded among participating counties. 

In addition to quantitative data, qualitative data will be collected by generating stories around the challenges and the work of community teams in nutrition security activities and civic engagement. 

Entry Letter: CCC

View Sample 1