Grow Sustainab-LEE is in full swing here in Lee County and we are happy to report that we are growing.  Last year we struggled with getting enough participants.  This year, we had more signups than we could handle.  Although we initially only requested funding for 20 participants, we ended up with 26 participants with a few others on the waiting list.  I wish we could have accommodated them all.  It is a wonderful thing for me that almost all our participants this year are engaged and eager to learn more.  Maybe next year we can grow and take in even more participants.

This year so far, our participants have had classes in planning a garden, planting a garden, and maintaining a garden, with several other classes still to come.  We learned about things such as using companion planting for a healthier garden ecosystem and crop rotation to reduce disease and pest pressures.  Our participants visited Joe and Nina Jenks’ farm to see a healthy garden in progress and were able to learn about maintaining their gardens in a hands-on way.

Later this year, our participants can look forward to having classes on heart healthy cooking, food preservation, season extension, and—a new class this year—seed saving. Once we learn about heart healthy cooking and food preservation, our first-year participants will earn a pressure cooker and second-year participants will earn a food dehydrator.  This way, they can put what they have learned into action by preserving their harvests for use later in the year when fresh foods are not readily available.

As previously mentioned, seed saving is a new topic for our classes this year.  We will be learning how to select crops for saving and what to do to collect viable seeds.  Self-sufficiency is the goal for this program and these classes, and someone cannot secure their own food access without being able to save seeds for use in future years.  We will need to learn which seeds don’t cross easily and thus are easy to save like tomatoes and beans.  Those that cross easily—like squash and melons—are more complicated; they would need to be isolated when they are blooming to ensure they don’t cross so saving these may have to wait for a future year to be taught.

When all is said and done, I am very proud of our cohort this year.  They have stepped up to the plate and regardless of how their gardens turn out, I feel that they have truly been invested in growing and learning how to garden without harsh synthetic chemicals.  Growing organically is a noble cause whatever the reason.  I am extremely proud to have been a part of teaching these 26 families about growing their own healthy food in their own backyards.  For these participants, I just can’t wait to see what happens next!