by Nathan Boddy
Laura Garber’s efforts have been seeding far more than just food. Garber has been farming for twenty-five years, and her enthusiasm for sharing her love of agriculture with her community has very clearly taken root.
At 175 Skalkaho Road, Homestead Organics serves as the campus for a variety of community based programs. One of those is Cultivating Connections, a program that Garber developed and which has at its core the mantra, ‘Building Community through Food.” The Cultivating Connections website states that its goal, “is to empower youth, grow food and share knowledge, foster well-being, provide mentorship & job training, and bring people together through education, participation, and celebration.” To meet that end, Cultivating Connections engages itself with kindergartners, special abilities camps such as HEARTism, receives visits from local homeschools and has partnered with Ravalli County Meals on Wheels for its Salads for Seniors program. Over the weekend of May 13 and 14, Cultivating Connections was hard at work doing their first Mayday! Gardens giveaway of ready-to-plant vegetable starts.
The Mayday! Gardens project developed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Garber and her partner and husband, Henry Wuenche, were looking for a way they could help. Knowing that people were faced with insecurities, and a lot of time at home, the pair considered their options for finding a positive way to help.
“The answer seemed really clear and obvious,” says Garber. “We can grow plants and share them.”
As the Mayday! Gardens project got underway, Garber said that it became clear that, for most people, it is the starting of the plants that is the single largest barrier to growing one’s own food.
“It’s a financial gamble,” said Garber about the process of purchasing seeds to get started. “We wanted to remove that obstacle.” That obstacle is selflessly swept away as the plants are given away free and by donation. This spring, they will be giving away plants to more than 400 people who are only asked to sign up in advance.
Furthermore, she said that the giveaway is also an important step toward changing the narrative about what it means to be a gardener. The stereotype of a perfectly manicured, square garden does not need to be present for one to cultivate their own food.
“Everyone who grows is a gardener. It can be a strip along your driveway, or an old bucket that you found on the porch.”
Garber also pointed out that some of the efforts for the growing of the plants are cared for by the very youth that come to be engaged in Cultivating Connections. One such youth group is the Youth Farm Internship, which allows high-school-aged-kids to work at the farm in order to learn aspects of agriculture ranging from raising to marketing. Eight years worth of high schoolers’ ‘crops’ have passed through the Youth Farm Internship program, and Garber loves to see the impact that the program has had for many youth. On a more personal note, Garber shared the story of the first year of the program, during which the participants came from the Linda Massa Youth Home. One young lady actually stayed on with Garber and Wuenche as their foster child, following completion of the program. Now, Garber said that the same young lady is, “a hugely successful adult,” added that their relationship, “was meant to be.”
Whether through the Mayday! Gardens, the Youth Farm Internship, their Community Supported Agriculture, school visits or its other programs, Garber said that the Cultivating Connections adds value in ways not immediately apparent. It means that the transactional based model of ‘buy and sell’ is replaced with something far more profound. When people make a purchase, or a donation to Cultivating Connections, they are getting far more than produce. They have helped support a growing system of learning, sustainability and community that has had clear and positive results.
To learn more about Cultivating Connections, agriculture and upcoming events, visit their website at:
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