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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meet the volunteers - Ismael in the Garden

The Sharing Gardens would not be the success they are without our volunteers. In the summer of 2010, from early June through late October, the gardens usually had two, three-hour volunteer sessions per week--one at each of the two garden sites.  In the early part of the season we coordinated them around the weather--as you recall, it was a wet spring so we tried to dodge the raindrops for our volunteer times. Once the harvest began coming in, we timed the sessions to coincide with Food Bank hours to bring the freshest produce to those in need.

Volunteers Cathy Rose, Danielle and Llyn with the kale harvest.

One morning, in early July, as we were harvesting lettuce for the Food Bank, a young man approached us in the garden and asked if there was anything he could do to help. He said he's always been interested in becoming a farmer and he wanted to learn about growing vegetables. Ismael ("My") became one of our steadiest volunteers, often coming both sessions per week. Though his family has been in the Corvallis area for over twenty years, and they own their own house in Monroe, the down-turn in the economy has made it difficult to make ends meet. The bags and boxes of produce "My" brought home from the garden were greatly appreciated by his family of six (he has three younger brothers). Though "My" is a playful sort, who loved to joke around with Chris and the other male volunteers, he always paid close attention to what we were teaching him in the garden and could be trusted with all aspects of the garden - from the delicate job of transplanting, to the big-muscle tasks of gathering and spreading grass or hay-mulch.

"My" using his bike-trailer to carry home hay for his rabbits and chickens.

One of our hopes, in involving young people in growing their own food, is to encourage them to expand their food choices. Many kids don't know what food looks like when it first comes from the ground and they're loathe to try it unless it comes from a bottle, box or can. One day, we were harvesting at the Monroe site, just a few blocks from "My's" home. Chris and "My" were filling a box with greens and summer squash, cucumbers and tomatoes for "My" to take home to his family. Chris pulled up a few beets and asked "My" if his family would enjoy eating them. "My" didn't know. He'd never had one before. So Chris put them in "My's" box and sent him home to find out.

About fifteen minutes later, "My" comes zipping back on his bike, his lips and teeth smeared and dripping with bright red beet-juice (I wish I'd taken a picture!). He takes a hefty bite out of the peeled beet he's got skewered on a shish-ka-bob stick and says with a big grin, "Yeah, my family loves beets!' We'll take a bunch!"

"My's" big grin always lights up the garden!

One day, late in the fall, “My” stopped by the garden. He’s joined the 4-H club with a focus on poultry and he’s got ten chickens in a coop he built in his back yard. He was wondering if he could gather the last of the sweet corn, still on the stalks, to take home to feed his birds through the winter. It's long past being edible for people so I said, “Sure, let’s gather it together.”

We pulled the ears off their stalks and loaded them in the wheelbarrow. As we harvested, we talked about the summer gone by and “My’s” time in the garden. I asked him if he’d write down a few words about his experience. Here is what he wrote in response to the questions I asked him:

What was your favorite part about the Sharing Gardens?

All the wildlife, the smiles, the laughter, happiness. Helping families with food.

Why did you volunteer at the Sharing Gardens?

Because I love helping people. I love being part of the community. I like meeting new friends.

What are some things you learned at the Sharing Gardens?

I learned how to plant plants, water them, harvest them, save seeds; how to make compost and…can’t forget—sharing them.

Can you say what you appreciated about Chris and Llyn?

Everything. It was like my mom and dad teaching me how to take my first baby steps and how to say words like “mom” or “dad”.

Chris and "My" mulching the fruit orchard.

My has a rather impish quality; he's very lovable and just soaks up the playful kidding and other expressions of affection that are a part of our time in the gardens. So it didn’t surprise me when I saw he’d added his own question at the bottom of the list. He wrote:

Can you tell me what you loved about me?

Well, “My”, we love that you are the kind of person who likes to help other people. We love your playfulness and your willingness to stay with a task until the job’s done. We think it’s fantastic that you help feed your family and we love your curiosity about gardening and your gentle touch with the plants. You are trust-worthy and responsible and a great help in the gardens. Here's a little story that shows you what I mean...

One time, I asked “My” and his little brother, Ricardo (who was also helping us in the gardens that day) to mulch a back area that didn’t have much growing in it besides weeds. We had seeded some giant sunflowers but the crows had eaten most of them and there were only two that I could find. I told the boys to mulch around the sunflowers, leaving them room to grow and to heavily cover all the weeds so they’d die back. I had other tasks in the garden to take care of so I left them on their own.

Chris and Ricardo ("My's" younger brother) applying manure tea.
At the end of the morning, after everyone had gone home, I went out to the back garden to see how the boys had done. They’re good, steady workers and they’d covered a sizable section of the garden with flakes of spoiled hay. I was very happy with their work. I started to turn back to the garden gate when something caught my eye. There, by the fence, away from the main garden patch was a lone sunflower that had volunteered on its own, the seed having spilled from our bag of seeds, or having been carried and dropped by a crow or other critter. I wouldn’t have noticed it except there, carefully placed around its base, was a layer of mulch, blocking the weeds and grass and keeping the precious moisture within the soil so the flower would have a chance to grow through the heat of the summer and into fall’s harvest. “My” had recognized the leaf pattern of the young sunflower and taken the time to apply what he was learning about mulch in the gardens so this plant would have a chance to grow and bloom. That’s what I love about “My”.

Happily weeding the broccoli

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