ONTARIO — A group of 67 volunteers from 23 states and two provinces in Canada completed a major community service project for a nonprofit in Ontario on Saturday morning, as part of a garden enthusiast package that brought them here in the first place.
The beneficiary of The Garden Answers Groupie Field Trip was Project DOVE, which houses an emergency shelter, transitional housing and an advocacy center that serve victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, child abuse and crime victims and provides other resources.
But how did they all end up here working on a service project outside of their own respective communities?
It was part of a package deal offered by Garden Answer, which offers gardening tips and tutorials through social media sites, such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (the latter of which gained more than 2.6 million followers since its inception five years ago). Garden Answer also has a popular YouTube channel with more than a-half million subscribers.
It might come as no surprise that the host of Garden Answer is Ontario’s own Laura LeBoutillier, daughter of Mike and Susan Kurth — owners of Andrews Seed Company.
When Laura and her husband, Aaron, of Ontario started up the online tutorial service five years ago, Laura LeBoutillier said she never dreamed it would turn into something like this.
But, as luck would have it, her social media sites grew a cult following.
“Isn’t it amazing,” she said looking around at the bustling volunteers as she took a quick break to talk about the endeavor Saturday morning.
Getting engagement through social media sites is one thing, LeBoutillier said, but it’s different when it’s right in front of you.
Work at Project DOVE included installation of a play area, outdoor furniture and raised garden beds, as well as planting shade trees, a vegetable garden, and flowers and plants in front of transitional housing areas, among other improvements.
The veggie garden included high-production plants such as tomatoes and squash, as well as basil and strawberries, to be utilized by clients.
In addition, drip timers were installed to help keep things as low-maintenance as possible.
‘Reap the benefits’
Some Project DOVE officials, including board member Betty Carter, were also on site Saturday.
Carter expressed her thanks to LeBoutillier for being there.
“We’re blessed,” Carter said.
To this, LeBouitillier responded, “It’s a huge blessing to us.”
Joan Carfi, administrative assistant, who has worked at Project DOVE for 13 years said when they were first approached about the project they had no idea the scope of it.
“I couldn’t fathom what was really going to happen,” she said.
To this, Terry Basford, interim executive director, added that she wasn’t even sure clients living in transitional housing on site knew the extent of the project, although they let them know work would be taking place, and gave them the option to help out if they wanted to.
“I suspect they will walk out tonight and think, “This is nice,’” Basford said.
“To have a place that’s peaceful to sit and enjoy is tremendous,” she said. “We will reap the benefits of this for many years.”
‘A dream come true’
Garden Answers gained so much popularity that it got its own fan club: Garden Answer Groupies. Member Laura Parker, of Utah, eventually dreamed up a way to meet LeBoutillier and visit Andrews Seed: a garden conference.
Only 60 tickets were offered for the field-trip-style conference and they sold out in three minutes. The trip included guided tours of the nursery as well as gardens at the LeBoutilliers’ and the Kurths’ homes, a question-and-answer session, four gardening classes, three craft projects and a gardening service project for the community.
The service project comprised a quarter of the two-day excursion.
And the participants and attendees were thrilled to be helping out in Laura LeBoutillier’s hometown.
Prior to the trip, organizers from the Groupies, including Parker, who have dubbed themselves the Sisterhood of the Traveling Plants, went around the community to find a garden service project, with one of those stops being Project DOVE.
“From the second we were here, it gave me chills,” Parker said, thinking about the prospect of helping out the nonprofit.
“The thing we love to do most is gardening,” she said, adding that they all loved projects, too.
“It’s a dream come true to be here working with Laura,” Parker said, commenting on the “amazingly wonderful generosity” of the donors who got involved.
Through a video on GoFundMe, the LeBoutilliers raised nearly $8,000 toward the project, and a significant portion of the $330 per-piece tickets for the field trip went toward the endeavor, too.
Sponsors included Proven Winters; Henri Studio, which supplied a fountain and concrete urns; Fiskars, which provided garden tools; Hoselink which provided hoses and hose reels; and Pro Rental, which provided use of its sod cutter.
In addition, field trip participants brought in so many donations for Project DOVE clients they had to be moved from the foyer to a room that was overflowing with childrens’ books, and household items.
“What better way to say thank you to Laura for all she’s done than to give back to her community,” Parker said of LeBoutillier.
It was something she never expected to blossom out of her online gardening tips.
“I’m blown away by the support,” LeBoutillier said. “When we started, I never thought I would be doing this.”
Request for repeat
The field trip pulled in master gardeners, including Deb Ragland from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She and her husband, Mike, both attended the field trip.
Mike, whose philosophy is that “you can’t ever give back enough,” said he was appreciative of the community service aspect being tied into the project.
His wife is such an enthusiast of the Garden Answer that “sometimes we watch it before we get out of bed,” he said, adding that Deb Ragland could barely sleep the night before the tickets went on sale.
Ragland, who has been watching the online channel for three and a-half years said she believes the community service piece is “what made it worthwhile.”
“It would be self-indulgent for a bunch of gardeners to get together and not do something like this,” she said.
Ragland commented on the interesting agriculture in the area, adding that she went to Wilder and got to see hops growing for the very first time — even having to stop somewhere and ask what they were.
With this being the first Groupie Field Trip, LeBoutillier said she’s not sure yet if it will be an annual event.
However, when asked, many of the attendees said they would look forward to a yearly field trip.
“I hope it becomes annual and that we can find a service project every time we come,” Ragland said.
Amongst the out-of-towners was one local Garden Groupie, Candy Reedy, of Payette.
Of the day’s endeavor at Project DOVE, Reedy said, “We were all for it.”
“It’s a way to give, and Laura’s dream is to give,” she said, adding that among other reasons, “We did it for Laura.”