By Eric Banford
ITHACA – The growing season will soon be upon us and Cornell Cooperative Extension is looking for gardening volunteers to help teach beginning gardeners how to plant and maintain their own gardens.
This “Seed-to-Supper” program was run for the first time in Tompkins County last year, and is looking to expand to every town in the county. The free trainings will take place at CCE from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on five Wednesday evenings: February 15 and 22, March 15, 22 and 29.
This five-part training program will prepare “Seed-to-Supper” volunteer educators to teach free vegetable gardening classes to beginning gardeners. Volunteers will gain familiarity with the “Seed-to-Supper” curriculum and learn some hands-on activities that they can use when teaching the classes in their communities. Volunteers will work in pairs to teach the classes and are provided with all the materials needed to run the classes.
There is no cost for the training and the classes held in communities are offered for free as well.
“This is our second year running this, and last year was really encouraging,” said Chrys Gardener, a horticulture educator fort CCE. “We had 12 volunteers last year and they went out and taught classes at four locations in Tompkins County and two in Chemung County.
“The audience for these classes is beginning gardeners on a budget,” she added.
The “Seed-to-Supper” curriculum originated in Oregon where it has been used since 2010 to help thousands of Oregon residents learn how to grow their own food. CCE adapted their curriculum for growing conditions in New York state. The curriculum consists of six slideshow presentations and a 100-page gardening manual for class participants. Topics include planning the garden, soil preparation, composting, planting, garden maintenance, pests and diseases, and harvesting.
“The volunteers will go through training with us at CCE, we’ll walk them through the entire curriculum,” said Gardener. “We have five nights of training, and at each one we’ll focus on a different chapter in the book and we’ll do hands-on activities. Then they’ll be launched out into the community in pairs, hopefully in the communities that they live in.”
The free classes in various communities will run throughout April and May, helping participants to be ready to plant their gardens for this year’s growing season.
“Everyone who comes to classes gets free plants that we grow up at Cornell,” said Gardener, “plus a 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled in it, and a compost and soil mix.”
According to Gardener, this year they are hoping to recruit host sites in every town in Tompkins County as well as multiple locations in Ithaca. Host sites need to provide classroom space for 15-20 adults and if possible, a digital projector and screen for slide presentations. An outdoor garden space for hands-on activities is highly desirable as well but not required. Locations should be accessible and comfortable.
Feedback from last year’s program was really positive, and Gardener was really impressed with the volunteers.
“They brought in so many ideas when they started teaching. They were super responsive to what the groups were asking for,” she said. “One group even brought in chicken wire to demonstrate making a compost bin and showed how to layer materials into it.”
Alice Green was a volunteer with last year’s program.
“I’m a fairly new convert to gardening,” she said. “The training was great for me because I had been gardening in sort of a half-hearted way for many years.
“The training was a very systematic look at growing your own food and I learned a ton,” Green added. “I also met lots of great folks and felt very prepared because the training materials were really well put together.”
Green volunteered in Groton, where participants were able to use garden space on the grounds of the library.
“We had about fourteen people last year, we met in the library which is a very homey atmosphere,” she said. “We even had a young family with a toddler with them, and other kids came to some of the sessions. Getting young people involved in growing their own food is pretty fun.”
At the end of the season, many from the Groton group gathered for a harvest supper, sharing food they had grown on their own, and swapping tips they had each learned.
“We informally talked about how to put your garden to bed for the winter,” Green said. “It was really nice closure.”
So look around your community for gardening and teaching spaces at community centers, libraries, churches, food pantries, community rooms at apartment complexes, school classrooms and your town halls. And then contact Chrys Gardener at (607)272-2292 or email@example.com with questions or to receive a volunteer application. To download a volunteer job description and application, visit ccetompkins.org/events/2017/02/15/seed-to-supper-volunteer-training.