Moorestown woman helps grow local gardening movement

The effort started with an abundance of seedlings and a Facebook page.

Every year, Toni Farmer buys an abundance of seeds, grows more seedlings than she has need for and offers the extra ones to her friends. 

With the current pandemic stretching on and her friends and neighbors finding themselves in the garden more than ever before, Farmer thought she might extend her offer to the Moorestown community at large and post on a community Facebook page to see if anyone wanted some free seedlings.

On May 10, more than 100 people lined up outside Farmer’s home to take her up on that offer.

While Farmer serves as Director of Community Engagement for Urban Promise in Camden in her day job, she’s also been an organic gardener in her free time for more than 25 years. She’s currently studying environmental sustainability at the University of Pennsylvania.

With everyone stuck at home this spring, Farmer suddenly had more friends than ever reaching out to ask about gardening tips. She said for many, gardening was something they’d always wanted to do but just couldn’t find the time. 

So Farmer decided to organize a seedling giveaway on Mother’s Day. At 7:30 p.m. the night before, she posted in a Facebook group that she was giving away six free seedlings per person starting at 9 a.m., and by the time she went to bed, her phone was blowing up with notifications.

On that Sunday, the crowd of more than 100 people who gathered outside her home on Main Street all arrived with masks and patiently waited their turn while spaced at least 6 feet apart. 

“People were incredibly patient and kind and grateful,” Farmer said. “It was probably the best Mother’s Day.”

For those who aren’t experienced with gardening, Farmer offers to show the way. She’s already posted a few videos to her personal Facebook page to help educate those who picked up her seedlings. But Farmer doesn’t want to stop with just the seedlings. She’s always wanted to create a lifestyle website to teach people about organic farming, but she hasn’t had the time. With more free time on her hands now, Farmer is developing the site.

The content will focus on simple gardening tasks and help people get started. She plans to provide quick tips on things like how to make a raised bed or how to put a tomato in the ground and care for it, and then to update from there with videos about caring for a plant as it grows.

Years ago, when Farmer learned about climate change and its impact on the food supply chain, she began growing her own fresh produce. She said food shortages at grocery stores during the pandemic have underscored the fragility of the food supply. 

While she doesn’t expect neighbors to grow all of their own food in their backyard, Farmer said having the ability to pick items from the backyard not only helps keep families stocked, but limits the frequency with which people need to go to the grocery store. 

The beauty of gardening is that it’s a relatively inexpensive and relaxing hobby, Farmer believes. Anyone with a few bags of topsoil can get started, and from there, she’ll show them the way.

To learn more, visit Farmer on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/toni.farmer.79. To contact Farmer or to be  notified when her website goes live, email her at farmersonmain@comcast.net