What gardening can do for us

Published 10:55 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

It’s been a crazy month for the Suffolk News-Herald. It always is this time of year, what with the deadline for putting together the summer issue of Suffolk Living fast approaching.

This year I got a chance to write a larger feature for Suffolk Living, which, being a lowly page designer, is actually pretty stressful.

But instead of focusing on how stressed I was trying to complete my magazine article on time, I’ve decided to focus on what an honor it was to meet some of the interesting people I met.

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There were Jeff and Cora Hancock, master gardeners who have a jaw-dropping garden — complete with a small bee hive — in the rural area south of Suffolk. Talk about a treasure trove of gardening knowledge. I could barely keep up with all the things Hancock knew about growing your own food. But beyond being a great resource for gardening questions, they were both down to earth and passionate. The two are fully committed to sharing the skill of gardening with everyone. As Hancock is fond of saying, “Everyone can garden.” It was enough to make me think I had a chance at actually keeping a plant alive.

Most recently, I got to visit the Oakland Community Garden at Oakland Elementary School, which is run by master gardeners Pam Courtney and Brad Holcum, with the help of after school program coordinator J.J. Stevens.

While it was great to see passionate adults excited about teaching gardening to kids, that wasn’t the best part of the experience.

When I was first told that the point of this story really needed to revolve around the children, I have to admit I was apprehensive. But it really was the children that were the highlight of this story.

From 6-year-old Gaby, who couldn’t wait to water the plants, to 8-year-old Tyler, who couldn’t say enough about how good Swiss chard tasted, spending an afternoon with these youngsters was really fun.

More than that, I was surprised how well-behaved this group was. Every child referred to me as “Ma’am,” despite my contention that I was not quite old enough for the title. The older children, including 11-year-old Trinity Woodson, helped out their younger peers, often stopping to show them how to do something new.

It might be a stretch to say that time spent in the garden is helping the children learn respect, whether that be respect for plants or for their fellow humans. But it’s obvious that this program — and others like it at elementary schools across the city — is a valuable asset to all Suffolkians.

Learn more about gardening in the summer edition of Suffolk Living, which will be available soon.