Green gardeners learn to grow
- Published: June 16, 2011
Gardening is not just for green thumbs any more. As local neighborhood gardens sprout, backyard veggie patches proliferate and village chickens multiply, some budding gardeners in Yellow Springs want to know how to best care for their soil, increase yields and deal with pests. Enter the Growers Exchange, a monthly meeting where seasoned local growers share their knowledge with novice gardeners in exchange for labor. With a little help from the experts, anyone can grow food.
Held the second Saturday of the month from 2 to 5 p.m. at an area farm or garden, the exchange is open to anyone wanting to learn and willing to get their hands dirty. It’s a joint project of Community Solutions and the Tecumseh Land Trust, with a teaching staff of farmers from Flying Mouse Farm, Smaller Footprint Farm, Heartbeat Community Farm, Radical Roots Farm and Purple Moon Farm and homesteaders Dennie Eagleson, Faith Morgan and Saul Greenberg.
Upcoming topics include building soil fertility naturally (June 11), no-till gardening and mulching (July 9), raising heritage livestock (September 10), extending the season and fall sheet mulching (October 8) and preserving the harvest (November 12). Because space is limited, those interested should register by contacting Jenny Haack at 937-322-7450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everyone benefits from the “learn and work” arrangement, according to organizers, since farmers are eager to lead tours of their properties and share their skills but always need extra hands. Meanwhile, novices get a free, experiential education at the price of sweat equity.
“The goal was to find a way to not drain the farmer — the farmers hate nothing more than just talking about gardening,” said Haack, whose Hustead Road homestead will host an exchange where participants will heave mulch and learn how to forgo tilling.
Faith Morgan convened a group of growers in January to figure out how they could support the burgeoning local garden movement, since more and more villagers seem “called by the earth” to start planting. Morgan, the director of local non-profit Community Solutions and a lifelong gardener, said she believes everyone should have a hand in growing food.
“Part of our goal at Community Solutions is to show people how their actions can make a difference,” Morgan said. “If people can start to eat locally from a garden, it means being more aware of the seasons,” in addition to reducing fossil fuel use, she said.
Growing food is not easy and novices make common mistakes, Morgan said. Among them are not knowing when to plant, what’s a weed and what’s not, which plants need to be started inside, how to compost and when to mulch.
Farmer Kat Christen said the gardening upsurge can be traced to people wanting to eat healthy and eshew industrially-farmed food.
“There is a growing need and interest to grow your own food and in a way that doesn’t involve chemicals and pesticides,” said Christen of Smaller Footprint Farm, which will host this Saturday’s soil building exchange. Christen said the education will mix the old and new — from skills that her generation’s grandparents may have known to pasturing animals with solar-powered movable fencing, a more recent development.
“Certainly there used to be more farmers and everyone had a role in growing, but the sustainable farming movement has a lot to do with new technology,” Christen said.
At last month’s successful first exchange held at John DeWine and Michele Burns’ Flying Mouse Farm, participants learned how to inoculate oyster mushroom spores in boiled straw, a unique technique. At upcoming exchanges they will build a fence while learning to raise sheep, goats turkeys, pigs and chickens at Purple Moon Farm, can applesauce while learning food preservation from Community Solutions and plant bulbs while learning how Eagleson extends the growing season (she eats fresh salads into December).
The Tecumseh Land Trust is participating in the exchange as part of its year-long educational focus on local food. The land preservation organization sees the exchange and its continuing farm tours as helping people make food market connections, according to land trust’s director Krista Magaw.
“We’re in such a nice place to make connections between farmers and non-farmers,” Magaw said. “There’s been a tradition of organic for quite a while, but local food has captured the public’s imagination and has in some ways transcended organic.”
On Saturday, June 18, the land trust will lead a tour to Athens, Ohio to visit that city’s farmers market, food incubator and successful local dairy. On August 1, the land trust will host its annual local food dinner at the Winds Cafe.
For Haack, the exchange is the natural extension of last year’s successful farm tour during the Yellow Springs Experience and a way to bring the two worlds of farmers and gardeners together to benefit both.
“There’s something so different about sharing the experience with others and sharing the ideas,” Haack said. “It’s a human-to-human thing. I think it motivates and keeps you inspired.”
Visit http://www.tecumsehlandtrust.org for the full schedule