It is said that gardening creates community. And this pleasant saying rings true each time that I tend and nurture a growing garden.
Oftentimes, as I’m tending the Children’s Square Foot Garden in front of the Mary Reinhart Stackhouse Education Center, I get many curious onlookers who are interested in what’s growing. Ultimately, they ask what’s my role at the Arboretum – they wonder whether I’m on staff or am I a volunteer? My answer is always the same - I tell them that I was hired as an Environmental Educator in 2016 to develop a gardening and nutrition program for children and I currently continue to conduct these programs in my new role as Director of Education.
Many questions and anecdotal stories later, we are laughing and sharing our universal gardening experiences. Gardeners tend to do just that, share stories, build relationships, and build communities through our shared interest in growing things. We connect through our shared joy of cultivating the soil, planting the seeds, and patiently tending and waiting for things to grow. It seems that as gardeners we are drawn to living things, changing things, both human and plants.
As I tended the Children’s Square Foot Garden this year, it was no different than in previous years. I encountered and welcomed the many curious onlookers. The one thing that changed from previous years is that this year, I was able to share a new story with our visitors.
As a result of the effective exclusion of the deer, the children’s vegetable garden benefited from the lack of deer browse. The Arboretum’s gardens in general and the Children’s Square Foot Garden in particular, was at its most productive and more beautiful than it has ever been. In the gardens we spotted many birds including hummingbirds happily flitting about; and we could finally grow sunflowers without them being eaten. Well, some were eaten by the chipmunks, squirrels, and birds. The sunflowers grew to record heights of 12 plus feet. The squash vines snaked their way along the low wooden fence, trailing on the ground. We grew butternut squash; green, purple, and scarlet runner beans; cute little sugar baby watermelons; tons of kale; Swiss Chard; Bok choy and herbs. With this abundance, we were able to share the surplus produce with GRACE in summit.
GRACE stand for Giving and Receiving Assistance for our Community’s Essentials. Their organization is known for their pantry. They hold a weekly distribution on Thursday evening for families in need.
When I contacted Liz Newell, the Board President of GRACE to ask if they would be interested in receiving a donation of fresh produce from the Arboretum’s Square Foot Garden, she was thrilled and immediately said yes. In August, with the help of staff member Lisa Lukas, we harvested and prepped giant Bok choy, armful of kale, Swiss Chard and herbs for GRACE to pick up. Again, in September with the help of staff member Linda Price, we harvested tons of green beans, Kale, Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash and Basil to donate to GRACE.
In the early morning after our Great American Backyard Campout, I was speaking with one of our Arboretum members Barbara Novoa, when I noticed that she was wearing a GRACE t-shirt. She mentioned to me that she has been a volunteer with GRACE for several years, and in September GRACE served a record number of families (626 families). On a personal note, she mentioned that the Arboretum's donation of produce and especially the fresh basil was very well received by the families.
The Arboretum looks forward to continuing this community partnership, to help to provide fresh produce to those most in need by way of GRACE.