Stories

Giving the Gift of Nature

Photo Credit: idigilearn

When COVID hit her New York City community last spring, it quickly became clear to Christina Delfico that family life was being turned upside down for so many of her friends and neighbors. Determined to do something positive, she developed the idea to create “plant therapy” kits and give them away outside. The plant kits contained local and farm-sourced leafy greens, including bok choy, kale, lettuce, and herbs, and a bag of nutrient-rich compost, created from the past year’s neighborhood food scraps.

In 2012, Delfico founded iDig2Learn, which uses science-based lesson plans to teach children and families about the origin of food through plant life.

“Plants are a gateway to discovering an entire world of living things worth understanding and protecting,” explains Delfico, who with her iDig2Learn team gave away more than 165 home gardening plant therapy kits. “I wanted to figure out a way to comfort people while they were stuck at home and provide an educational activity that brought the family together.”

In response to the plant therapy kit “gift-away,” Delfico received an outpouring of positive feedback from the community, including notes from Roosevelt Island residents who were struggling to adjust to the new pandemic conditions. Nancy Brown sent a particularly thoughtful message saying, “After being in lockdown for six months and feeling depressed, I was so excited to receive a kit and have something alive that I could care for and nurture. I loved it! It really boosted my mood and brought so much joy to my life.”

Delfico wished to bring iDig2Learn’s programming online to reach additional families who were struggling to connect to nature while being confined indoors. Having never hosted web-based events before, Delfico and her iDig2Learn team were hesitant to spend limited funds on unfamiliar technology. So, she reached out to the Open Space Institute (OSI). iDig2Learn is one of 24 grassroots organizations fiscally sponsored by OSI.

“Working with OSI gave iDig2Learn the ability to pivot and respond to the COVID crisis by bringing our environmental education workshops online and into people’s homes,” says Delfico. “Not only did OSI supply us independent access to a webinar platform, but staff also trained my team to become self- sufficient, so we can easily use the technology whenever we need to.”

Through OSI’s Citizen Action Program, iDig2Learn gains access to mentorship, professional training, increased fundraising capabilities, and legal assistance, as the organization works to expand its impact.

Since gaining access to the technology, iDig2Learn has hosted digital workshops on edible garden weeds, ecological landscaping, the amazing world of ants, and how to identify the urban and native trees of Roosevelt Island.

According to Delfico, the webinars have proven to be a great way to reach people, especially during the winter and non-growing months, and iDig2Learn will continue to use online webinars to engage the community beyond the pandemic.

Over the course of a challenging year, Delfico was able to sustain, and even grow, her program. And now, she is even more appreciative of the long- term gifts that nature provides. “When people truly see nature, they are more likely to protect it. My hope is that by providing plant therapy kits and hosting webinars about noticing nature on family walks, that even during the pandemic, people will want to take care of the natural world and convert any negative impact humans have on the environment to positive impact.”