By Kristina Lefever
Neither of us knew it at the time, but Lynn Pugh was going to change my life. In 2006, after several years of buying local/organic meats and produce from two CSAs and several farmers markets, not to mention Whole Foods, I was ready to learn how to grow my own.
My timing was perfect. Lynn had been working with Georgia Organics to develop a curriculum for the state’s first-ever in-depth organic gardening and farming course, offered for the first time in January 2007. Lynn had made the transition from gardener to farmer about six years earlier, and with a BS in biology and chemistry, an MS in plant pathology and an EdS in science, plus having taught science in high school and college for 18 years, she had the background to write and then teach such a course.
Sixteen of us met for eight weekends, January through April 2007, at Lynn’s 17-acre farm, Cane Creek Farm in Cumming. In the mornings we had class instruction – learning about the composition of the soil and the critters that inhabit it, how plants grow, how to tell the good bugs from the bad, and other important things for growers to know.
After lunch, usually a delicious soup made with farm vegetables accompanied by fresh bread and butter, we did farm work for a few hours. This was not ‘pretend’ work! Depending on the month and the weather, this might be seeding vegetables, weeding, planting potatoes, and other activities needed on the farm. We also took a few field trips to nearby farms, and got a personal tour from the farmers.
I kept in touch with a number of my fellow classmates, and I sometimes met graduates from later courses, or learned about them from Lynn. And as I heard more and more of their stories, I realized that mine wasn’t the only life that changed after taking the course. And each of us, in our own way, is changing the face of agriculture in Georgia.
Me? Since December 2007 I’ve been a sharecropper at Cane Creek Farm, which for Lynn and me means that I trade labor and miscellaneous assistance for a garden plot. I work (hard!) on her farm or in my garden several days a week. So with only a rudimentary knowledge of how to go from seed to harvest before I took the course, I’m now growing plenty of my own vegetables all year long! No longer making the daily commute to sit behind a desk, my life is filled with farm and garden work on both beautiful, sunny days and cold, wet ones. I’m filled with excitement from seeing a seeding come up after all, and relish the hours in the kitchen prepping and/or storing my harvest. Not to mention delicious meals that I’m doubly proud of since I now grow, and then prepare, much of what’s on my table. And I’m still growing, too.
To date, including that initial course in 2007, Lynn has taught the curriculum seven times, to 85 students. Here are a few stories about some of her students and what they are doing with what they learned.
Lynn Pugh: “Our future depends on our ability to find a better, more sustainable way to feed ourselves. We need more people educated about these issues and involved as growers, eaters and citizens to work out sustainable ways to produce and distribute food. The Organic Growing Class equips people with the background knowledge to understand some of the scientific issues of organic growing and also gives them the practical experience which breeds confidence in their ability to be successful.”
Pattie Baker took the course in the spring of 2009 for two reasons. Already a gardener, she wanted to take her knowledge to the next level. But she also wanted to gain confidence for her work on the steering committee recommending a community garden as part of the new City of Dunwoody’s Comprehensive Plan for Land Use. Pattie got what she wanted out of the course. She learned a lot of those “little things” that make a difference, such as adding bone meal to the soil to get the “best ever” tomatoes, and why adding leaves to the soil is important. But most important, the community garden she helped found is a success. Established and operated without city funding, the 40 garden plots were sold out within 48 hours of opening. To learn more about the community garden, visit www.sustainablepattie.com.
Baker: I took the class to be better prepared to work with the City of Dunwoody to create our community garden – and within six weeks of opening, we were donating to the food pantry.
With just a basic knowledge about gardening, Mike DeLong and Penny Hayes took the course in 2008. Nearing retirement, their goal was to learn how to grow plenty of food for themselves, plus enough to sell and/or give to the local community action center. Now residing on Mike’s family farm in Kentucky, Mike told me that if they hadn’t taken the class, they would still be farming, but it’s “highly unlikely” that they would be using organic methods, and they probably would not be buying organic foods at the grocery. They graduated from the course with a curiosity to continue learning about a lot of things, but also with the confidence that they knew the fundamentals to take a garden from bare ground to productive plants.
Hayes: Before I took the class I would dig a 50 cent hole for a $5 dollar plant – the course taught me the how and why to do it right.
Find out when the next “Organic Growing Class” will be offered at Cane Creek Farm.