Since late March, I’ve been taking weekly Jefferson County Master Gardener Association (MGA) classes at the Louisville Nature Center. I’ve also been reading this tome of an instructional manual published by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment.
Classes have included topics like:
- Native Plants
- Plant Disease
- Organic Vegetable Gardening (a favorite of mine)
- Weed Management
- Woody Plant Care
- Garden Design
Tomorrow, I turn in my final test. It was an open-book, take-home test, so I’m certain that I’ll pass.
MGA Focuses on Volunteerism
Joining MGA has already taught me a lot of new information about gardening. I’ve been growing vegetables since I was about 8 years old.
My parents taught me most of what I know. And it turns out that not all of that was based in science. Their techniques work, but I’m an evidence-based kind of person, so I’m thrilled to learn better strategies for increasing crop yield and managing pests without using harsh chemicals.
That’s not to say anything negative about my mom and dad. They fostered a love of plants in me and my brother. I wouldn’t have this interest without them.
Becoming an MGA member isn’t all about learning how to improve my garden, though. The organization has a focus on volunteerism.
All members must volunteer at least 40 hours of service per year to remain active. They also have to attend continuing education classes to keep improving their skills.
What I Plan to Do as an MGA Member
Louisville has 10 community gardens where people can rent lots for $10 to $20 per year. Some lots are as large as 30 ft by 30 ft, which is bigger than the vegetable garden I have in my backyard.
I’ve already logged some volunteer hours working with gardeners at the Emerson Park Community Garden on Sylvia St. I chose it because I used to live on Sylvia. Visiting gives me a chance to help the community and look at the first house my wife and I shared.
Food literacy is a big deal to me, so I want to help other people learn how they can grow healthy food in sustainable ways. People tend to think of Germantown as a hip neighborhood full of young people willing to spend outrageous amounts of money on modestly-sized homes. For whatever reason, the Germantown bubble hasn’t burst, yet. The reputation continues.
As a former resident, I know that the young hipsters only make up a small percentage of Germantown’s demographics. It remains a blue-collar community. Many of the people living there worked in factories all of their lives. They never had much money. Now, they have even less because they’re too old to work full-time jobs. It certainly doesn’t help that companies all over the country have renigged on their pension promises.
There are people in Germantown who rely on their garden plots for food. They deserve instruction that helps them get more from their efforts.
Sidenote: Claudia Foulkes and I will be talking about preventing the spread of plant diseases at Emerson Park on June 20th at 6 p.m. The garden has had a big problem with blight. Claudia and I have found some ways that we hope will limit the impact of the disease. More on that to come.
My Future as an MGA Member
I’m very proud to be involved in a program that helps all people access the food they need to thrive.
I have other ideas about my involvement in the future, though.
After I get some experience, I hope to help more Jefferson County schools develop gardening programs.
There is a shocking number of children who don’t know where their food comes from. I remember a passage from Barabara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where she talks about children not wanting to eat fresh root vegetables because they came from the [dirty] ground. Some child wanted to know if spaghetti grew on trees.
I haven’t read the book in a decade, so I could have the details wrong. The point remains: children in urban landscapes rarely have opportunities to learn about healthy food.
The absence of food literacy means that many of them will lead shorter lives, suffer more illnesses, and never learn the pleasure that comes from raising and making a good meal.
It may take a few years before I can convince more schools to start gardening programs. In the meantime, I plan to keep learning and teaching wherever I can.