Hello, Spring!

Here at Rockcastle Grow Appalachia – at ASPI – we are listening to the buzzing and almost buzzing ourselves! When everyone is so busy with their gardens, we want to make volunteering easy for our participants. We require 5 hours/family, so not a lot, but hard to sometimes do if you want to spend the sunny days in the garden or have to drive a ways to get to us.

Last year we had record hours of participants volunteering after we did some tweaking to how we organized volunteering. First, we thought of what can hinder families from volunteering – being in their own gardens (which we do not want to discourage), distance to ASPI, business hours for them and us, and types of tasks available.

We did a few things that facilitated volunteering:
1. Be prepared with volunteer activities an hour before and an hour after workshops. Folks like to come to chat and will gladly stuff envelopes and prep materials. Once it was established, participants came ready to work in the garden, too.
2. Have volunteering times at the usual workshop hours during weeks there are no workshops. If participants are free the 2nd Monday of every month at 6:00, they are likely to have time the first, third, and fourth Mondays.
3. Ask for anything and everything, even if you don’t think anyone will be able to help: a participant cut and hauled 40 logs for mushrooms for our workshop, two others are working to fix our tiller, and others have volunteered to pick up t-posts and other bigger loads in their truck.
4. Have a variety of tasks. Folks who are spending a lot of time in their gardens, may not be as excited to come to the teaching garden and weed – and some are not able to do so. So we prepared all of our workshop reminder postcards, newsletters, and other paperwork ahead of time so to be ready for volunteers. This year we are also training volunteers to work at the Farmers’ Market, collect and present recipes, and assist in workshop presentations!

We do issue one warning: Folks will bring great enthusiasm and occasionally, want things done their way. While sweeping the lot one day before a workshop, a broom was snatched from my hand – “Go get ready for our workshop!” When one participant set down his scrubber while doing dishes, another grabbed it, “I’ll just finish these, and they’ll be cleaner than when I started.” I had to take a moment to get that.

Speaking of volunteers, we’ve had a lot in March. Four universities sent Service Learning students for their spring break. All spend at least 1 day working on GA activities. We hosted students who managed urban community gardens or grow herbs in college dorm windows – with them them shared trade secrets – and students whom we stumbled upon diligently digging perfect 4 inch holes for each radish seed. (Thank goodness we caught this when they were only 3 holes into the process! It turns out that “planting directions on the package” can be interpreted in various ways.) We all learned a lot!

The pictures are of the University students teaching elementary school classes our “Sensational Seeds” Program!

This won’t be a comprehensive list, but a good outline of accomplishments: Students from Loyola got our paper trail for participants organized, jump-started the Richmond Street Community Garden, pasteurized compost for seed-starting, and visited the Laurel County African American Heritage Center – Thanks Wayne! Notre Dame weeded and planted out the high tunnel, got a section of garden along a stone wall ready for an accessible plot for our participants. University of Texas – Dallas had a completely local-foods focused trip and learned to bake bread and make food from local ingredients (used for our workshop snacks), attended GA garden-planning workshop, and oh, started 1632 seeds in our greenhouse. University of New York – Fredonia learned a lot about compost and organic matter in the soil. . . They made a few mushroom logs to take home after they collected soil samples from participants, bagged mulch spore for the participants to take home, and covered a few hundred inoculated holes with hot wax.

Thank you to all the volunteers – residents and visitors – who make our GA program possible!

I know each site has great volunteers – we would love to hear your successful strategies! -tisha