Master, Shmaster

Lily helping pick blackberries

Three years ago, I took the series of classes offered by Purdue Extension called “Master Gardener” training.  I learned a lot, wished I had learned more on certain subjects, and found out I knew a good bit to start with.  It is a wonderful program.  I am very thankful for the opportunity.  BUT, people hear the term “Master Gardener,”  and they take it literally and think I am a one stop source for everything growing.  I am no Master at this gardening game folks.  75 % of what I have learned has been gleaned from jumping in head first.  I have made huge mistakes and still do.  But in three years of gardening (dare we call it farming?– I think so), I have learned a tremendous amount.  The steep uphill learning curve is part of the attraction.  Mother Nature will always have more to teach me.  Each year brings its own challenges, but it also gets easier. 

My response to the increasing ease is to add more onto my to-do list.  I love the new challenges.  The first year I had the big garden (3600 square feet), I knew I was in love and in trouble.  That first garden was so poorly planned, run over by crops too closely planted, and drowning in weeds.  I had no idea that I would produce as much as I did and quickly realized that growing it was only half the battle—I had to use it, preserve it, or send it to our restaurant. That first year, when a hard frost finally came, I was jumping for joy.  That winter was like a delicious long weekend–one that was sorely needed.  Each year since, I have gotten better on all these fronts, but new challenges arise all the time–whether they are in the form of a tomato blight epidemic, tropical temps, or an army of potato beetles.  The challenges have to be seen as part of the process. 

Four years ago, I would have laughed to think I would be doing all this.  I never could have believed I would farm for our family and the restaurant.  Now we are finishing a high tunnel so that I can grow (nearly) year round.  I wish I could have all those years back I spent being bored.

Along the way, I have gotten to know many farmers I admire and consider personal friends.  Like me, they are all learning as they go.  Most have FAR more experience than I and have mentored me.  What we all have, I believe, is the fever that drives us to grow, no matter what.  It is a spiritual pursuit for many, including me.  I get a lot more than I take.  The produce is a fringe benefit.  The process is the real reward.  In no way, do I want to gloss over the fact that farmers need that produce to keep households afloat, but rather, if money was the main goal, farming would not be the best means to that end. 

I digress. My point is, I am no Master Gardener.  I prefer to think of myself as an Enthusiastic Gardener.  I encourage anyone interested to jump in.  I don’t have any special talent–just enthusiasm.

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