Gardening a new pastime for all ages

WESTFIELD-More than 5,000 seed pod kits were distributed in Westfield by Stop & Shop recently, developed to teach little gardeners how to grow their own vegetables and herbs.

“We know many parents have had to take on the role of teachers while at home, and we’re excited to offer this fun educational activity for families to enjoy together,” said Gordon Reid, president of Stop & Shop. “The Grow & Learn program is a no-cost way to teach kids about how the fresh produce they see in our stores is grown.”

Across the Northeast, Stop & Shop distributed millions of free seed pods to customers including in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.

The seed pod kits, which were given away within five days of arriving at the city store, included an activity booklet and 20 varieties of vegetables and herbs. Also, customers can track the progress of their seedlings with Stop & Shop’s Grow & Learn app.

Deanna Ourand and her children, Renee, 8, and Marshall, 3, have been dutifully tending to their plants which started out in trays and have since been transplanted to the back yard.

Renee Ourand, 8, waters her plants Sunday morning that were part of a free seed pod kit from Stop & Stop in Westfield. (DEANNA OURAND PHOTO)

“I don’t have a green thumb,” said Ourand, adding, “This is a new experience for us since we have never grown anything from seeds.”

Ourand said she wasn’t sure if her children would embrace the idea of growing vegetables but they have been “so excited” since the initial plantings.

“Renee is looking forward to trying all of the vegetables,” said Ourand, noting Marshall is undecided at this time.

“Renee and Marshall are excited every time a plant starts to grow and are loving this family project,” she added.

Renee Ourand echoed those sentiments.

“When the vegetables are full-grown I want to try them all,” she said.

Renee and Marshall Ourand planted their seeds on May 23 that were part of a free seed pod kit distributed by Stop & Shop in Westfield. (DEANNA OURAND PHOTO)

Star-Lee Johnson, Westfield’s Stop & Shop customer service manager, said customer feedback on the seed pod program has been “extremely positive.”

“We’re so happy to have been able to provide this educational and fun program to so many,” said Johnson. “My 8-year-old loved them, so much so that she asked for flowering pots for her upcoming birthday.”

Johnson added customers are enjoying the experience of educating their children and grandchildren on how fruits and vegetables are grown from dirt.

“The seed pods have also opened up some children’s eyes to the idea of ‘clean eating,’” said Johnson. “Most parents were excited for the program as it gave the kids a new focus other than distance learning and being stuck at home.”

Stop & Shop has also created a special Grow & Learn website – – and an app is available to learn about the seed pod program and cultivating one’s own garden. 

For customers including Amanda McFarland, she too has enjoyed the experience of “planting the Stop & Shop garden with my 4-year-old daughter,” and Alexa London noted “ours is growing very nicely.”

For other local families – including the O’Connor’s – growing a small herb garden is an annual affair.

Kerry O’Connor loves cooking with herbs and always has a variety growing on the family’s deck each year. (KERRY O’CONNOR PHOTO)

“We always grow parsley, mint, oregano, cilantro and basil,” said Kerry O’Connor, adding, “I love to cook with basil.”

O’Connor was also surprised on Mother’s Day when a friend gave her a lemon tree.

“The lemon tree is still in a tiny pot,” said O’Connor, adding two years ago the family also added a lime tree to the back yard.

O’Connor noted that while her daughters, Kathryn and Carly, and husband Jack, enjoy the flavorful herbs at meal time, she is the one most often tending to the plants. She also added some tomato plants for good measure this summer to their garden endeavors.

“As a family project this spring, we painted the colorful pots that the herbs grow in,” said O’Connor.

For persons still interested in starting a garden this summer, plants can be found at local stores and farmers’ markets, as well as at farm stands.

For Donna McLean, she enjoys picking up her herb plants at farm stands in Southwick each year.

“My mom was with me during the Mother’s Day weekend when I was picking out the plants and she joked ‘what about mine?’”, said McLean. “After we put all of my plants in the car, I went back and came out with some pickled cucumber and cherry and beef steak tomato plants to surprise her.”

“I was definitely surprised,” said Bonnie McLean. “I don’t have a green thumb and I never had a garden so watching these plants grow each day has been interesting. For many of us we take it for granted when we go to the store that the vegetables we need are there. I am enjoying watching the day-to-day progress of my plants grow from the flowering stage and look forward to sharing salads with my daughter and son in the weeks to come.”

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