Sunday, February 22, 2015

Master gardeners meet community gardeners

Today I participated in a gathering of community gardeners and UW-Extension Master Gardeners to see how the two groups could be mutually beneficial one another. I represented the American Family Community Garden as our garden coordinator. I knew I would see some familiar faces, and indeed did get to renew friendships with community garden leaders I meet once a year at the autumn community garden leader potluck, including Annette from Atwood community garden, and Shelly from Community Groundworks. I also met Gail, who lives on Dayton, just one street over. Throughout the meeting, she and I passed notes about ideas we have to establish a community garden in our neighborhood.

During the morning, we were encouraged to look for opportunities for master gardeners to get involved with community gardens. It started with a lovely breakfast and lots of time for networking. Then there was in a panel of community garden leaders who gave a brief history of their gardens, and then answered questions about how they thought community gardens and Master Gardeners could collaborate.
A panel discussion involved community garden leaders from new gardens that started just last year, to a garden that was started by a woman on the panel before I was born!
My favorite part followed the panel discussion. Community garden coordinators were interspersed throughout the room, one at a table with six to eight Master Gardeners. We then brainstormed ideas for mutual collaborations. One of the ideas my table came up with was to establish a long-term relationship between a garden and a master gardener. We would foster this relationship with monthly talks at the garden, consisting of perhaps a half hour of a particular seasonal topic, followed by a Q&A on any topic. There is a speed dating event in a couple of weeks to match community gardens with master gardeners, and I hope to attend.

I know I'm new to community gardens, in fact, one of the  community garden panelists started a garden before I was born; but it seems in the few years I have been involved with local community gardens, there is a renewed sense of excitement, and even urgency to build new gardens and involve more people in them.

How to build community: organize a block party

Early in 2015, I shared my New Year's resolution to follow the suggestions on a poster titled "How to build community." I also explained that I intend to report how things go along the way.

Sometime in January I got the idea to organize a mid-winter block party. In winter, people pull into their garages and scurry into their homes; dog walkers move fast, looking down to protect their faces from the wind; and no one is outside lounging around or taking time to wave at passersby. I miss all of that activity, I miss my neighbors. 
The idea was to stand around a bonfire for an hour, and then go inside to play games. My neighbor Chris offered her fire pit, and neighbor James offered dry wood.

I like to create environment, and be outrageously welcoming when I throw a party. So I created some ice lumières and lit up the sidewalk and our driveway. Jay and I collected curbside Christmas trees, and  we chopped them up for the fire. I lit the candles, warmed up apple cider and got out the s'mores ingredients. And at 7 o'clock I suddenly got that sinking feeling that I had just planned a party and no one was going to show up.

Logically I knew this wasn't the case because several of my neighbors had told me they would come by. The bitter weather had passed for a moment, and it was fairly pleasant standing in the dark. And then the thought came to me, I wasn't doing this for anyone else. I was doing it for me because I wanted to spend some time outside, with the winter chill defeated with a fire. And I had invited people to join me if they wanted to.

Right around then, Jay walked down the driveway, and joined me and the crackling pine cones our neighbor gave us as fire starters. It didn't take long for my dark fears to be swept away when a couple of boys from the block, dressed to play in the snow, stepped onto the sidewalk and walked toward the fire.

People started to arrive and joined me around the firepit. We sipped hot apple cider and agreed how good it was. One child took me up in the offer of s'mores.

I enjoyed my time outside, and it takes a lot for me to say that between November and March. We all agreed we missed one another and it was good to get together. And I got to remember, and will recall this moment throughout the year, that I'm primarily doing this "how to build community" activity for me, and others get to enjoy it along with me.
From left: Dan, Jenny, Dan, Tricia, Tim, Geoff, Tilly, Chris and me. Jay took the photo, and four children were playing in the snow - Jase, Cole, Clara and Mercy. Melissa and her father had already come and gone when we took the photo, and Chet and Abigail hadn't yet arrived.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


I am pleased, excited and humbled to share the good news that I've been accepted to the Edgewood College Sustainability Leadership Master's Certificate program. I received the letter late this week.

The program consists of three classes:
  • an intensive, residential week at Edgewood (we stay in the dorms!) in late July for three credits.
    Sustainable Development Leadership (SUST 650)
  • the autumn semester meets every other Saturday
    Ecological Sustainability (SUST 651)
  • the spring semester 2016 meets every other Saturday
    Social and Economic Sustainability (SUST 652)
I have friends in several circles who have taken these three classes and they unanimously loved the program. I haven't studied, formally, since taking my permaculture design course two years ago, and before then, it had been decades. So my goal for the seven months prior to the start of the first course is to read some of the books from last year's syllabus.  While I know I'll reread them during the courses, at least I'll start to exercise my "studying muscle" and develop some habit that will help me succeed in this new and exciting academic adventure.