July was such an eventful month for us here at Build It Up East TN. In July, we visit all of our gardeners to see their gardens, give them a chance to ask us questions, and just in general get to know them better. July is the best time to this because it’s normally very hot, pests and diseases become abundant, and it’s the best time to weed your garden if you’ve fallen behind. While it’s not a requirement that folks make it look good, it is an added bonus for us and them! I visited 42 gardens in 31 days and I must say, it was a joy! It’s fun to see new gardens but also come back and see the expansions and different designs our second year gardeners are incorporating.
What I Saw:
Throughout July, I saw bountiful green gardens buzzing with life. Juicy green tomatoes (not quite ripe yet), sweet peppers changing colors, tons of beans, and cucumbers and squash sprawling all over the place. There were lots of children running about and many who were so excited to show me their gardens. They could barely contain their excitement. I saw baskets of picked produce littering storage cabinets and lawns. And many new contraptions made to store the produce that was seeping from the garden. Some people decided to go the drying method and were storing dried herbs in egg cartons, dehydrated tomatoes in mason jars, and making kale powder out of dehydrated kale. Others were canning, canning, canning. Need pickles? We’ve got 40 jars!
Zucchini is always a crop that people have way too much of, so it was fun to see how people got creative with that. Some were shredding and freezing. Others were turning out zucchini bread as fast as possible. But most were giving away zucchini to neighbors and anyone they could find. One of the best things to see was the comradery between gardeners, new found friendships, and a new community surrounding the gardeners themselves and the folks that live near. It warms my heart to know the impact the folks in our program are having on the outside world. They’re doing the good work.
What I Heard:
Of course, there were lots and lots of questions about pests and disease. Living in East Tennessee, we have A LOT of pest and disease pressure. Many questions were “what are these spots?” “why are the leaves yellowing?” “why are my squash plants wilting?”. Many of these questions were repeated over and over again at each garden visit. It’s interesting because a lot of gardeners were insecure about it. They thought they had done something wrong, when in reality, everyone was having the exact same issues! It’s a good reminder for me to normalize garden issues. Everyone is bound to have these same issues, so here’s how you prevent/fix it!
I also got to hear lots of praise for the program. Not going to lie, this is always a heartwarming moment. It’s a reminder for me that even when I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job or being the best about responding to emails, the program we run is having an amazing impact on our local community. Praise comes in many forms but I hear it in the way kids run up to me and say “look what I grew!” or when someone says “because of this garden, I’ve saved money and supported my family off of what we grow” or “we are so much more self sufficient”. It can even sound like “I feel so supported”. This is one of my favorites. I hope all of our gardeners feel supported because that’s the goal! We truly care about our gardeners and hope to support them not only with gardening, but with personal growth.
What I Felt:
I think I’ve started to pour my heart out a bit in the previous paragraphs, but I’ll really let it loose now. The strongest thing I felt was pride. I am so proud of our gardeners this year. They are growing their hearts out! The diversity we have in the program this year is insane! We have small families and big families, families that are growing to sell and families that are growing for personal use. We have small gardens and HUGE gardens. There are folks that have never grown before and folks that have years of experience. I’ve felt pride watching folks form friendships and learn from each other’s gardens. Most of all, I’m just happy I get to witness such greatness. Greatness comes in many forms, but growing your own food and succeeding (or failing and trying again) is something to always be celebrated.
A Very PROUD Program Coordinator