“This is so wonderful, I wanted a garden for so long… I keep getting happy tears!”
“This summer was the perfect opportunity” explained Suzanne, as she delivered tall glasses of cold lemonade to a group of hard-working volunteers building beds and digging fence posts into her yard. “With COVID, I ended up having the time and energy for a garden, and I could use my stimulus check to pay for it”.
Suzanne is not alone. Since COVID, the Sierra Gardens Program has been busier than ever, as more people realize the value of growing their own nutritious food. “There is no way we could have built 100 gardens without our solid team of volunteers” says Edy Cassell, Sierra Gardens Manager, pointing to the enthusiastic group that keeps working on the fence posts despite her repeated calls for a lunch break. “I call them my ‘Old Faithful’ crew. They’ve all been volunteering with me for about four years, and they work together really well.” The crew’s nicknames – ‘Gate Master Larry’ ‘Side Hill Matt’ and ‘Heart Love Christian’ – reflect their expertise and passion for the work.
“Helping other people get gardens is good for me,” says ‘Side Hill’ Matt Marquet, “It’s great exercise, too!”
‘Heart Love Christian’ Gutt takes Fridays off work so can help build gardens every week during the busy season. “I’ve been a city dweller. I wanted to learn how to grow food so I started to volunteer”. Christian found that he really enjoyed spending time with the other volunteers, the work in itself was therapeutic, and he eventually became a Sierra Harvest participant himself! He says “I learn something new every day,” and often has extra food to share with his friends and neighbors.
Volunteers have been helping build Sierra Gardens since the program started in 2013. “We get to spend time in beautiful spots all over town” says ‘Gate Master’ Larry Diminyatz. They have built gardens in tiny backyards in downtown Grass Valley, rustic properties far away from any grocery store, shared gardens at senior housing, Habitat for Humanity homes, as well as various institutional gardens. Other members of the ‘Old Faithful’ crew include Suzanna Elkin, Steve Danner, and Karen Wcisclo, who also gives her time to help mentor garden participants from season to season.
As community reliance on food assistance programs has surged in 2020, and is expected to continue while social distancing measures are still in place, these volunteers play an important role in helping families gain access fresh, healthy food. Last year, 100% of Sierra Gardens participants and their children ate more vegetables than before their gardens were installed, 60% fewer participants used a food pantry, and 100% shared excess veggies with their neighbors. In addition to the benefits of a healthy food source, after experiencing a home veggie garden, 100% more participants strongly agreed that they feel happier and more satisfied with their lives.
During these stressful times, gardening can provide food security, access to nutrient dense food, as well as calming the spirit. As Suzanne thinks about what it will be like to have a garden this summer, she looks forward to what it can bring to her plate, as well as to her sense of well-being. “I think being in touch with the earth, through the garden, is like a natural compost system for negative emotions”.
Are you inspired about this program? Find out more about how to get a Sierra Gardens of your own, or make a tax deductible donation today to provide scholarships for families in need that would like to have their very own Sierra Garden.