This is an exciting time of year for many gardeners; spring is in the air, the ephemeral plants like daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses are all starting to bloom. Trellis is ready to jump into another exciting season of growing with you, but first there are a couple steps to take. In order to prepare your garden (and you!) for the spring, here are some tips and tricks that will help as we begin the growing season.
Step 1: Spring Cleaning!
Trellis youth mulching
The first step is to do a bit of spring cleaning. Remove any weeds, plants, old crop debris etc. from your growing beds. Make sure that no pest critters have been overwintering in old crops, or dead plants.
If you have used a mulch in your garden, like leaves or compost, these can be left in place. If the layer of leaves is more than a couple inches thick still, take some of these off (reduce to ~1 inch of cover) and put them into the compost or anywhere that could use some extra. This layer will stay in place even through planting – more on that soon!
Spring cleaning isn’t restricted to our gardens or our storage spaces – it’s also a good opportunity to clear the clutter and debris that have accumulated in our minds, hearts, and spirits – our interior garden space. Let go of past failures or disappointments, pull the weeds of complaint and bitterness, make space for something new to grow in your life, and in you!
Step 2: Cultivation Leads to Growth
Food for All gardeners cultivating
If your soil has been uncovered all winter, it can become compacted, cracked and damaged. You may consider cultivating the top 1-2 inches of the soil to loosen the surface and allow for water infiltration. This also makes direct sowing and planting seedlings much easier. Damaged soils can also be improved by adding organic matter, like compost.
A healthy garden can grow more than fruits, vegetables, and flowers – it’s also a place where community can grow too. As we emerge from the winter and a period of social distancing, your garden can be a place for people to come together and grow in new ways. Cultivate community by extending invitations and making sure others know they are welcome and have something to offer, even if they aren’t avid gardeners!
Step 3: Make Sure the Water is Flowing
New gardeners & energy –bring your kids to work day at SAP America – Garden Olympics Compost Toss
Before the planting, make sure the water to your garden is turned on and accessible. If you have one of our recommended drip-tape irrigation systems, do your best to assemble the components and test it if you are able (we can help as needed when the time comes)
Water isn’t the only thing that flows into a garden – new people and new energy can flow there too. Make sure nothing is blocking that from happening, and work out any kinks you find.
Step 4: Get Organized!
Dornsife gardeners organized for action
Gather, sort and organize any other materials that you may have on hand- like row cover fabric, hoops, staples, stakes, twine, tools, fertilizers, etc. Getting an idea of what supplies you have will help you plan for the rest of the season.
As you also assemble fellow gardeners green or seasoned, with faces new or familiar, do the work of getting organized, getting on the same page, and getting excited to grow in new ways. If you need some help, ask us about the Trellis Community Building Playbook.
I was first introduced to Trellis for Tomorrow as a high school student in 2003. At that time I was shy and knew little of how food can impact communities and our lives. Fast forward to 2021 and I serve as a diplomat representing the U.S. government for the Department of State. What does food have to do with diplomacy? For me, everything. My experience with Trellis ignited my interest and commitment to public service.
I was one of the first participants in Trellis’s youth programs. Trellis taught me about food justice, sustainability, and compassion for one’s community. I learned about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and saw firsthand the positive impact a local food garden can have in communities of need. I enjoyed working alongside my neighbors and peers in supporting access to local fruits and vegetables.
Trellis provided the professional development that I needed at such a critical stage in my life. Their youth programs nourished my leadership potential, empowered my interest in community service, and challenged my self-awareness. I served on the Youth Advisory Board to share my perspective on how to strengthen their youth outreach. This experience gave me confidence and exposure to how the public sector can change lives.
I believe in Trellis for Tomorrow’s mission to foster compassion in youth and inspire them to build sustainable communities. Still excited by Trellis’s impact, I became a Board member in 2014 so I could continue to support their growth. Trellis nurtured my commitment to public service and is a testament to where I find myself today. My involvement also taught me the importance of empathy and leadership; skills I use every day in my role as a public servant.
I am one of many examples of the profound impact this organization has on its youth participants. I am deeply grateful for the organization’s care and commitment that guided my journey from a once timid student into a confident, successful, and empowered leader.
I have learned so many things about food systems in the last two years as a Youth Seed Enterprise (YSE) participant with Trellis for Tomorrow, some of which shocked me. It made me rethink what I eat every day. Our food system is very harmful to the environment and us, but it is also very unstable. For example, millions of animals a year endure very poor conditions just for our consumption. I am not a vegan, but I do understand why a lot of people are. The meat industry contaminates just as much as the whole transportation industry, with as many gaseous fumes being emitted from meat factories as cars in the roads. This is why we have to change it as soon as possible because if we don’t, our life on earth will end sooner.
I am from a place called Guatemala, located in Central America. I moved here when I was 9, so I understand how both America and Guatemala produce and distribute food. In Guatemala, there were not many supermarkets. Most of the food was found in small marketplaces. On whole street blocks of tents people would sell fruits and vegetables of all kinds, along with complementary spices. I found less heavily processed products besides the usual different types of chips. Needless to say, I am sure that the fruits and vegetables also had some pesticides in them as they do in the US.
When I moved to the US, I was amazed by how many products were on neatly stacked shelves with a lot of colors and shapes. It was truly a whole different food experience. But now after years of consumption and ignorance, I have learned the cost of those things. The cost of having tons and tons of ‘food’ stacked next to each other, the cost of cheap and colorful products, the cost of GMO and pesticide fruits and vegetables. I learned the cost of our food system, and it’s not sustainable.
Our food system needs to change, and that change needs to happen now. We can start by eating more organic food. And even better, growing our own food, just like we do in the YSE program. Gardening helps us to make a connection with earth and what it can give naturally. Most importantly, we need to understand why we have to change, why we have to create a completely new system in which we all get freshly grown food and make this world a better place…literally.
Summer is the warmest season of the year in the northern hemisphere, lasting from June to August. Typically, summer is a time where people go to the beach and hang out by the pool, but it can be so much more than that. Trellis for Tomorrow is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to giving back to the community. Trellising, by definition, is to support a climbing plant with a trellis. This is one of the main things I learned to do this summer, while I took part in a program called Youth Seed Enterprise (YSE). The YSE program gives back to the community in the hopes that they will encourage others to do the same. The program has four locations, however the one we participated in was the Rolling Hills location in Pottstown. We trellised many tomato plants, making them grow to their full potential.
Overall, our experience in the program was nothing short of engaging. The days that we were onsite in the gardens were definitely exciting because we got to do hands-on work. We did things such as weed the beds, plant new vegetables, and harvest produce to give out to the community. Learning how to use a stirrup hoe, trellis tomatoes, and cover beds was fun. On the afternoon Zoom calls, we talked in a large group about informative world topics like the the foods we eat, inequality in schools, personal wellness, and more. Learning about emotional intelligence, apologizing, and transformative justice with Trellis has helped us to be more socially aware.
Helping those in the community and giving back is what the Youth Seed Enterprise is all about. The YSE program helps to support food justice by producing and distributing over 8,000 pounds of produce. There has been so much to learn and do in this program, that made our experience so amazing.
What started as an eight-week program became something we would never forget. We did not know exactly what we would be doing, but we soon found out it would teach us so much. From working in the gardens and distributing produce to people in the neighborhood to the daily Zoom meetings, we learned so many skills both in and out of the garden. We met new and interesting people. Many takeaways of this program will be with us throughout life. Overall, this program made us look at the broader things in life and how much we can do for others and the world. This program opened our eyes to new ways to go about life and inspired us to be more open-minded.
With the fall months comes cooler weather and some truly beautiful days that may be enjoyed spending some time in the garden. But for many of our Food for All partners, the Coronavirus pandemic has made it extremely difficult to have consistent and regular engagement in and around the gardens for the past two years. Disruption to once “normal” routines combined with safety concerns have limited our access to the gardens and opportunities to use them as a shared place of service and impact. Despite these challenges, the Food for All program has exceeded expectations due to the hard work of our dedicated partners.
This month, we wanted to take the time to celebrate and learn from a couple of Food for All champions who have managed to maintain a high level of engagement with others during this challenging time. If you are looking for some inspiration to increase your engagement with others in these garden spaces, look no further! We have asked these FFA champions to share the secrets to their success.
The garden at Eagleview Town Center is headed up by the wonderful Terry Rothermel who has made significant strides in expanding the network of garden volunteers in 2021. We spoke with her about what worked well and some ideas for continued growth into the future.
The core group of volunteers has grown significantly through several different forms of outreach. One major factor for their success this year was the addition of a group from NextGen, a corporate partner located close by who volunteers with a team from the office on a weekly basis, which helps to build their camaraderie and team relationships while giving back to the community. Strengthening connections between our partners and the community is one of Trellis’ core values, and we are committed to this aspect of our work.
Another new element that increased engagement was an information box, designed and installed by Trellis near the entrance to the garden. This box holds flyers that give directions to interested community members on how to get involved. High-impact engagements delivered by Trellis in 2021 helped cultivate additional interest in the garden, including a seedling giveaway and several garden tours, elements of the engagement package offered by Trellis to all our partners in order to increase the level of community and activity in your garden sites.
Another key to success was celebration. Terry took the initiative to host a garden party, serving up food made from the types of veggies that were grown in the garden. Invites went out to current volunteers as well as the surrounding housing community so that people would have a chance to get to know what goes on in the community garden. Events like this are a great way to safely get together in outdoor spaces, and to encourage new folks to get involved.
Terry’s advice for increasing engagement is to consider your audience—who is most likely to already be interested in the work we are doing through Food for All? For instance, if there is a farmer’s market in the area, perhaps there is an opportunity to pass out info to patrons who are likely already interested in local food systems and organic agriculture.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Narberth is another partner who has maintained a solid base of volunteers throughout the years. We spoke to Pat Brubaker, the garden champion, about the history of engagement with the garden.
One key to successful engagement at Holy Trinity has been to find a time that works best and stick to it. Settling on a time that worked for everyone was the biggest challenge. Initially, weekday afternoons proved to be too hot and storing produce became difficult. After some experimentation, Pat says “we switched to an early morning harvest which was then taken directly to the Grace Lutheran food bank. The seniors were on board and the younger ones were way more inclined to give their time on a weekend day for the more physically demanding garden efforts. And so it continues to this day.”
Pat also sends regular updates to everyone from the church who is involved in the garden, including those who have been involved in previous years. Sometimes these updates come from Trellis, other times Pat shares what is being grown and harvested, and always ends with a reminder of how and when they can help. Consistent timing and messaging has allowed the volunteer base to remain strong at Holy Trinity throughout the pandemic.
As for recruiting new volunteers, a healthy garden can be a big draw. Pat says “the garden lushness itself is spreading the message! It is a very visible corner and friends often talk about what we are growing with a kind of awe.” A few new volunteers have joined the ranks simply from stopping to talk as they walk by and admire the garden. Engagement is a key to success in our Food for All programs. We would love to hear from you – what have been your keys to successfully engaging with others in and around your garden? Let us know, and we would love to share it with the entire FFA network. Thank you for all that you do, and for who you are. Together we are helping our world grow in a new way!