Ever wanted a free introduction to growing your own fruits and vegetables? This summer, join community members around Tompkins County for Seed to Supper, a series of classes on the basics of gardening that can help you on the road to becoming a master gardener and having more fresh produce to eat.
The class series is based off a curriculum started in Oregon and adapted for New York State that covers topics like garden planning, soil preparation, compost, seed starting, transplanting, planting in the garden, maintenance, dealing with weeds and pests, and harvesting.
Chrys Gardener, a Community Horticultural Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Tompkins County, is helping to coordinate the over 35 volunteers who will actually teach the classes.
“As much as possible, we really encourage the volunteers to do some hands-on work. So they’ll watch the presentation on how to prepare the soil and then go out to garden and actually show people,” Chrys said.
Chrys says that growing some of your own fresh produce has many benefits.
“[Benefits include] eating more fruits and vegetables, exercise, and I think psychologically there's a feeling of empowerment and self-sufficiency,” Chrys said. “A lot of times when people do grow vegetables if they have children, they find kids are more willing to eat vegetables if they help grow them. I think they don’t seem so mysterious that way.”
The community-based aspect of the program is one of the strengths of the Seed to Supper model, according to Chrys.
“The beauty of the program is that the people who are teaching the classes are from the community they are teaching,” Chrys said. “Rather than me running around the county trying to teach these classes, I think it's much more powerful when you have people who live right in the community teaching them. They know people, they are their friends and neighbors.”
Classes will be taught in Brooktondale, Caroline, Danby, Dryden, Freeville, Newfield, Ithaca, Lansing, and Trumansburg. Specific location and time information is available on the CCE Tompkins Seed to Supper webpage.
“We did this on a small scale last year as a pilot program in a few communities and it was received really well,” Chrys said.
Attendees receive all materials for free, including plants, buckets, soil, and a comprehensive 100-page gardening manual for any questions they may have outside of class.
“It's really a good gardening manual for life,” Chrys said. “It goes into a lot of topics that many people may not even use their first year. The last chapter has harvest information and a lot of recipes as well on how to use the produce.”
Teaching people how to use the produce they grow is also an important part of the Seed to Supper program, according to Chrys.
“One of the things we’ve realized is that if someone has never grown their own vegetables someone may end up with a whole bunch of tomatoes, or eggplants, or peppers and they don't really know what to do with so much all at once,” she said.
Chrys says that Seed to Supper classes could involve a visit from a CCE nutritionist who can share recipes and cooking tip and information on canning and freezing produce so that people can get the most out of their harvest.
In last year’s pilot program, Chrys says that the community-building aspect of the classes was a big benefit to many of the novice gardeners.
“It was a really nice way for people to connect with each other over a common interest,” she said. “In Groton they had a fall harvest festival where everyone from the classes came back and told stories about their gardens and shared some of the vegetables harvested. The festival was also open to the public. Some of the people who took the classes had no experience and some people had more experience so there was a kind of informal mentoring process.”
Some area classes are starting soon; now’s a great time to grow your green thumb. Learn more and register on the Seed to Supper webpage.
Article by Dave Janeczek, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins Newsletter editor, who is graduating in May and will be missed!