When I was a kid, I helped my grandfather harvest his garden on the weekends. I always knew where in my neighborhood the apple trees were so when I needed a snack, I didn’t have to come in from playing. I once tried planting sweet potatoes in the backyard, but my sister’s dog dug them all up and ate them. As an adult, I have killed every houseplant I’ve ever had, even a cutting from the ivy that has been in my family for over 30 years. When I bought a house, my son and I made a small salsa bed as a scout project. These few memories are the sum total of my gardening experience before finding the Grow Your Own program. I would like to explain how it has completely changed my life for the better.
Grow Your Own is designed to turn people like me with limited gardening knowledge into gardeners, either for market or for home use. The program provides tools, supplies, and even plants to make sure you have everything you need to get started. More important than the supplies, GYO provides the information and hands on training so you know what to do with all that stuff. The lightbulb moment for me came early on when an instructor explained that the idea of having a “black thumb” isn’t real and no one is doomed to kill plants. Gardening is just like any other skill, so with the right tools and training, anyone can learn how. This clicked with me and it felt empowering to realize how easy it can be to learn how to become more self sufficient, providing for the fundamental human need for food. From that moment I was hooked.
In the first year, there’s so much to do and learn that it can feel overwhelming, but those initial harvests taste better than anything so it’s worth the work. Students coming back for a second year have found their stride and third year students with more experience act as mentors to the incoming class. Some of the students are seasoned farmers who want to learn new ways to diversify their sales and move into different crops. Working in a group with a range of skill levels is very helpful and creates a collaborative team spirit and sense of community. In my third year, I became the program VISTA to give a year of service and many other GYO students and graduates are also regular volunteers. Some of us are even collaborating to make the most of the farmer’s market by sharing a booth. This co-op set up will maximize offerings and share the cost of entry so we can transition from home gardeners to market gardeners.
The Grow Your Own program has the potential to provide fresh food, a sense of community, good exercise, family bonding, as well as a potential income stream for gardeners who go to market. Some of the unexpected benefits I have reaped from this program include a remarkable improvement in my personal life. My health, family, and social experiences are all made better by gardening. Eating fresh fruits and veggies while getting exercise, fresh air, and sunshine required for garden maintenance really feels great. The widely researched mental health benefits of gardening have been reducing my stress level and helping me feel calm. I have regular activities to share with my family that benefit us all. I have even made some really great friends who share a common interest. I cannot express enough my appreciation for this program and how it has improved my life.
This article was written by Agriculture Education AmeriCorps VISTA, Della McGuire.