Ten days after graduating college I moved to Manhattan to work for Spoon University (have ya heard of it?). Even though never seeing grass and always working indoors has become my new normal, my real home, home is located in Central Illinois (no, not Chicago) in the middle of a lot of green.

My childhood summers were spent in the garden with my mom, the majority of my extended family are farmers, and simply, most people don't understand how epic growing your own food or crops actually is. When I was given the opportunity to work with Sabra and talk with their Senior Agronomist, Mario, to teach college students (yeah, that's you) how to do just this—grow their own food—I was geeking out.

Basically, agronomists are scientists who find ways to grow more high quality food out of soil and it's pretty dope. After talking with Mario and the Sabra team, I learned that other than making your favorite homemade-tasting hummus, Sabra cares about a lot more than snack food. Last year, Sabra created this amazing program called Plants With A Purpose that encourages people to get in the garden and advocates to eradicate food deserts in the US.

ICYMI, food deserts are areas without ready or affordable access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which affect more than 23 million Americans, and it’s time we do something about it.

Jocelyn Hsu

What you probably don't know is that Sabra’s executives hail from around the world, from Turkey to Israel to Mexico, and their CEO, Shali Shalit Shoval, has been on the front lines of the Plants With A Purpose movement from day one. When the execs first learned that there were Americans without access to fresh fruit and vegetables they couldn’t believe it. In their home countries, even the poorest people can have access to produce if they grow it. Many households have dates, citrus, and herbs often growing freely in the front yards. Shoval and her team decided that Sabra, which makes products that people enjoy with fresh veggies, had to play a role in improving access throughout the country, but they didn't know where to start.

“We were preparing to help others around the country and discovered something unnerving,” said Tracy Luckow, Plants With A Purpose lead. “One of the biggest food deserts in the country was in our backyard [Richmond, Virginia]. Our own employees were living in and around severe areas of lack of access to fresh produce. [....] That was entirely unacceptable and it mobilized us to act, to first improve access for our employees and for the community in which we work, live and learn.”

Since successfully motivating their own team to garden together on their campus and learn about agriculture, Sabra is expanding its initiative countrywide. And that’s where we come in.

photo by Spoon University

Starting a garden in college requires you to get creative, but thankfully you don’t need a lot of supplies. And, I’m here to walk you through every step. All you have to do is tell me where you live and I’ll tell you how to start a garden. Plus, if you Instagram your makeshift garden with #PlantsWithAPurpose, Sabra will send you seeds and donate a matching set to an elementary school in a food desert. Let's get after it and seriously start making a change in our world.

The Basics

Despite the small living quarters in college, you can get away with having a mini-garden right on your windowsill. Below is essentially all you will need to make these mini gardens a reality.

photo by Spoon University

Location and Lighting

Choosing your location is the most important part of growing your own food. Before you start to grow your basil on your crowded desk, have you considered the rooftop, your community garden, or a patio?

While it’s better for your foliage to have natural light, it's not always possible in dorms with limited window space. Or anywhere in the North or Midwest, because winter happens nine months out of the year. Sorry, Minnesota.

So, if you can’t find outdoor space and your access to natural light is limited, don’t use your desk lamp and expect your seedlings to grow. You’re going to need a full spectrum light — you can buy this at a pet store or online.

Another huge factor to consider is your air conditioner. The constant cold air will basically dry out your plant and kill it. Be kind to your seedlings and give it a safe home.

photo courtesy of Pixabay

Seeds and Care

You can buy transplants (aka already-grown plants that need to be replanted), but seeds are way more affordable. Don’t be afraid of the seeds! You want the seed to germinate (gardening speak for beginning to grow) within seven days otherwise they’ll rot #sad.

To ensure the success of your seeds, pay attention to the instructions on the packaging. All seeds come with care do's and don’ts, so put your reading skills to the test and be the best new-parent your mint plant has ever seen.

One of the most important parts of growing your plant is providing adequate water without drowning it. The key to success here is making sure there is enough drainage so your seeds aren’t just sitting in water. 

photo courtesy by Pixabay


I do not recommend digging in the dirt next to your apartment. You can easily pick up a bag of potting soil from any home improvement or gardening store or when in doubt, Amazon. You can also look into getting a bucket of soil from your campus Ag and horticulture departments, which are more likely to be rich with natural fertilizers like worms and have been recently tilled.

If You Live in the Dorms

Dorm gardens are all about utilizing small spaces and everyday items you would normally get rid of. Trust us, getting savvy and growing a living, breathing thing on your windowsill can make your shoebox of a room feel a lot more personal and useful.

photo by Spoon University

1. K-Cups

If you're like me, you've probably had a moment where you've felt guilty tossing plastic K-cup after K-cup into the trash. A great way to reduce your carbon footprint and eliminate a few extra pods in the bin is to use them as starter pots for your seedlings. You can even put them in a circular K-cup rack, and hello, welcome to your new mini herb garden. All you need to do is pull off the foil top, rinse out the coffee, fill with soil and plants a few seeds below the soil surface. 

The K-cups can be great to jump-start your seedlings, but aren’t a forever home. After 4-6 weeks you'll need to move them to a larger container because plants need as much space below the soil as above the soil.

#SpoonTip: Recycling an object in a creative way to make it more useful (like coffee pods into pots) is actually called upcycling. Vocab word of the day, FTW.

Emma Spoldi

What You Need: Old K-cups, a tray or holder to line them up on.

The Best Plants to Plant: Basil, radishes, and other small herbs.

2. Grab-and-Go Cup

Think: styrofoam coffee cup, your old Starbucks iced tea cup, pretzel and hummus to-go cup, something you’d put a yogurt parfait in. They’re incredibly ideal to kick-start your seedlings’ growth because it creates a warm, moist (sorry, not sorry) environment for them to germinate. Like you learned in "The Basics" at the beginning of this article, you'll need to poke holes in the bottom for adequate drainage.

photo by Spoon University

You're probably wondering a somewhat obvious, yet important, question — when do you trim your plants to eat them? Short answer: whenever you're hungry. However, a good rule of thumb is to harvest ⅔ of your plants, leaving ⅓, so you can keep growing your plant.

What You Need: Plastic or styrofoam to-go cup.

The Best Plants to Plant: Chives and parsley.

If You Live in an Apartment

If you’re living that A-P-T life, you’ve probably successfully survived the dorms and finally have a bit more space. Take advantage of your little corner of the world and keep practicing your green thumb.

tea, espresso, coffee
Maggie Murray

1. Soup Boxes

Your chicken stock and butternut squash soup boxes were born to thrive. These boxes are already water resistant and can be easily opened at the top. Again, you may need to poke holes at the bottom for drainage and as always, be careful not to oversaturate your plants with water.

photo by Spoon University

If you're part of a group that collects soda tabs for charity, you can reuse the soda cans, or even soup cans, for your plants. You’ll need to raid your friend’s craft closet for handy wire cutters and clip off the tops of the cans, and be careful for sharp parts. The sharp edges could cut the stalk of the plants; plus, mother nature has a habit of turning aluminum into rust when water is involved. Bonus points for trying, but proceed with caution.

What You Need: Soup boxes or tin cans (if you're feeling advanced).

Best Things to Plant: Celery, parsley and other herbs.

2. Guacamole or Hummus Tubs

Okay, you don’t have to use these exact types of tubs, but feel free to go crazy and reuse any plastic container to plant your future grub. Think: mayonnaise containers, butter tubs and milk jugs. Any semi-deep, plastic container can make perfect dupes for any plant pot.

cream, vegetable
Ellen Gibbs

Make sure you rinse out the containers thoroughly and poke holes at the bottom to allow extra water to run out. To make sure your makeshift pot doesn't create a mess on your desk or windowsill, use a plastic plate or the lid to your plastic container to catch any water and soil.

What You Need: A plastic tub.

The Best Plants to Plant: Green onions, alfalfa sprouts, chia seeds and wheatgrass.

3. Rotisserie Chicken Container

Similar to both the tubs and the K-cups above, a rotisserie chicken container can be a great way to start the beginnings of an herb garden in a confined space. 

photo by Spoon University

You can also try planting microgreens, which can be nutritious additions to your average salad. All you gotta do is clean the chicken grease out, layer it with potting soil and plant some seeds on top.

What You Need: Used rotisserie chicken container.

The Best Plants to Plant: Herbs and microgreens.

If You Live in a Sorority or Fraternity

Living with 50+ young women in one house was probably one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had. However, it was also one of the coolest ways I've witnessed a group people coming together around a cause. For us, it was a charity we've always supported, but as young people, we always have the opportunity to introduce our people to new traditions and causes we seriously care about.

Before you start growing something on your own in your house, let your ~sisters~ or bro-skis in on why you're doing it. I promise they'll probably be down to tell help you grow some grub in a well-lit room, on the balcony, or the front porch. 

1. Toilet or Spare Tire

Don’t knock it until you try it. If you’re living in a run-down frat or passed-down house off campus that has a bum toilet or random objects in the backyard, embrace them. Whether it’s the porcelain throne or a spare tire, both objects give adequate room for plants to grow and flourish. Just fill your object of choice with soil outside and plant accordingly.

What You Need: Non-functioning toilet and spare tire.

The Best Plants to Plant: Mint, cilantro, and chives.

2. Clay or Ceramic Pots

Okay, so this one isn’t nearly as thrifty, but it’s obviously very functional. For spaces like large houses, these make total sense and can support larger plants. Introducing a plant into a shared home can be a great way to teach people general gardening upkeep and get your friends excited about taking care of something that's actually living.

Because you live in a big house, you may think you can grow a big plant like a lemon tree ASAP, but slow your roll. Growing plants is like building muscle. Even though lemon trees look bougie and idyllic, it’s probably not realistic. Start with an easier plant like radishes and work your way up. 

vegetable, pasture, radish
Caroline Ingalls

What You Need: Medium to large clay pot.

The Best Plants to Plant: Radish, strawberry, banana pepper, or tomatoes.

Growing Your Own Food IRL

Growing your own herbs isn’t going to eradicate food deserts on its own, but makeshift gardening can create the awareness that we're all responsible for how our food is grown and how the earth is treated in our lifetime. Plus, watching an eggplant grow before your eyes is the reminder we all need to nourish our bodies with real food from the earth. 

photo by Spoon University

And even if you really can’t grow a garden in your campus housing, you can still spread the word by telling your peers and roommates about eco-friendly and upcycling initiatives.

Whether you’re getting signatures on campus to petition for a public gardening space or you’re partnering with a local non-profit organization to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s vital that we all pitch in to spread awareness about food deserts and the lack of fresh food in our country.

While some of us might have access to fresh and affordable produce, there are millions of American who don’t have that luxury, and that needs to change.

This post is sponsored by Sabra.