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May 4, 2011

Growing a Neighborhood: FamilyFun Magazine Helps Your Community Catch the Gardening Bug

familyfun_magazine_subscription_may2011.jpgMy 4-year-old was so proud of the egg-carton garden full of tiny sprouts he planted at school. He wanted to plant them immediately on the day he brought them home. Unfortunately the front yard is the only place where we get adequate sun for growing vegetables. “Wonder if the neighbors would mind squash and watermelon plants running wild for all to see?” I thought. I’m still not sure what their reaction would have been but I did love reading about the neighborhood gardening club started by one California family in the May 2011 issue of my FamilyFun magazine subscription.

After losing a beloved old oak tree, the Walker family wondered what to do with their newly sunny patch of grass. A neighbor thought it might make the perfect vegetable plot, and an idea was born. Starting with pumpkins (because they’re easier to grow, maybe?), this family started learning all about the ins and outs of home gardens. The interest caught on among other houses on their street and soon they were all cultivating their green thumbs.

“Whether it was the faltering economy, the desire to eat healthier foods, or the chance to get the kids away from electronic gadgetry and into the fresh air, we weren’t sure, but suddenly the whole neighborhood seemed to be bitten by the gardening bug at the very same time,” writes Lynn Bowen Walker.

In the spirit of fun, they decided to have a contest: Which family could grow the best pumpkin? After distributing seeds and contest information around the block, they “did what all gardeners do: We waited.” The competition sparked many conversations and got neighbors who might not have known each other well talking in the streets about their different growing tricks.

When the pumpkins were ready for harvest, the neighborhood had a simple party in one neighbor’s driveway one Saturday afternoon to judge the results. They gave prizes (dollar-store finds in lunch bags decorated with pumpkin stickers) and invited everyone to wear orange.

“It turns out that it’s just plain nice to know the folks who live nearby–to be aware of who is on vacation and would welcome a little neighborly watchfulness; to be able to make newcomers feel at home; and yes, to swap fertilizer information.”

I think it’s a terrific idea. I see a tomato-growing contest in my street’s future.



About the Author

Shannon McRae
Shannon McRae
Shannon McRae is a work-at-home mom of three young children whose days are spent wiping mouths, playing Candyland, planning dinners and stealing time in between at the computer for her freelance writing. She's a stickler for healthy eating, with a slight exception for Oreos. She lives in Alabama with her precious children, loving husband and 13-year-old Australian Shepherd named Ricky Martin.




  • Collcarr

    Hi- I have been getting famiy fun for a few years. Last year I was all set to type of the letter to the neighbors and pass out the seeds for the pumpkin contest when I went into labor 3 1/2 weeks early. Well this year I was bound to put the pumpkin growing into place….. Do you think I can find the article? No- I was wondering if you still had your letter that you sent. I can’t think of all of the information that was in the article! Thanks!

  • lynn

    Hi Collcarr,

    Lynn Bowen Walker here, author of the FamilyFun article on the pumpkin growing contest. The letter for our initial pumpkin growing contest included our contest motto (“To plant a seed is a hopeful deed”); rules (1. Grow a pumpkin using included seeds. 2. See what happens.); contest categories — you can make yours whatever you want, but these were ours: Most pleasing pumpkin, orangest pumpkin, biggest/baddest/phattest pumpkin; most inspirational pumpkin; and best of show. Later we added one more category: Good try.

    That’s basically it. We said that judging would occur in early fall, at a date to be determined, and that the judge would be a “neighborhood luminary.” As our pumpkins got ripe we set our date/time/place/judge, and sent out a second notice, very similar to the first invitation, giving everyone the most updated information on the party. Provide a few inexpensive prizes (we got ours from the dollar store and stuck them in brown lunch bags decorated with pumpkin stickers) and some simple refreshments (cheese & crackers, punch or cider) and there you go! It was a great time and we are now on year four. The contest has been a real hit. Hope yours is fun, too. Please let everyone know how it turns out!

    Lynn Walker, author, Queen of the Castle: 52 Weeks of Encouragement for the Uninspired, Domestically Challenged or Just Plain Tired Homemaker