Grow As You Go

Gardening proves to be a gratifying pastime for Paly students and experts alike

Art by Marilyn Yin

Planters overflow with vegetables of various colors and shapes, finally ready to harvest after months of growing and hard work. For many, gardening serves as a rewarding pastime with countless benefits.

With the safety regulations of COVID-19 still restricting regularly scheduled events and activities, many have found time to pursue the joys and benefits of gardening.

Paly junior Cate Dyer is among many of those who have begun to garden as a release from this ongoing pandemic.

“With school being online, I feel like I don’t get outside enough, and gardening helps me to do so,” Dyer said.

“[Gardening] it gives me something to do with my hands and helps me destress and not overthink because I am focused on taking care of the garden.”

— Cate Dyer

Owen Rice, a junior at Paly, runs his own local plant business and uses gardening as a similar escape from the world’s chaos.

“I think working with plants has been comforting over the past months,” Rice said. “It’s a really nice thing for me to focus on in hectic times and it’s just another thing that makes me feel good.” 

Not only have people been inspired to start gardening at home, there are even organizations that garden to serve the community.

The Ecumenical Hunger Program (EHP) in East Palo Alto is home to a thriving organic garden that grows a variety of produce to distribute to those in need. The garden is managed entirely through the work of volunteers.

Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 have severely depleted their supply of volunteers and nearly tripled the size of their client base. 

For the EHP garden’s lead volunteer, May Chevallier, it has become difficult to maintain the garden due to this influx of clients.

Art by Marilyn Yin

“I’m constantly thinking, ‘How can I increase production?’” Chevallier said. “The garden is very, very small for the number of people that we serve.” 

The EHP garden normally runs with the help of corporate volunteers; however, the pandemic has kept companies from pursuing volunteer opportunities, so Chevallier has had to rely on friends, volunteers from Nextdoor, the community outreach app,  and high school students to keep the garden running. 

Despite these challenges, Chevallier is determined that with hard work and more volunteers, the EHP garden will continue to serve the community and provide fresh, organic produce for those in need. 

Maintaining a thriving garden is vital to the work of the EHP because their clients mostly receive canned or processed foods from food banks, so the produce grown in the garden is one of their main sources of healthy food.

According to Chevallier, the garden also serves as an educational opportunity to teach the community about the importance of eating healthy. 

“A lot of low income people can’t afford fresh produce, so we’re teaching them how to eat organically, healthy and fresh.”

— May Chevallier

Growing your own produce also presents benefits in which you know what products are used to grow them, rather than having to buy it from a store, unknowingly.

“There are definitely things that my family and I have started growing because we’d rather grow it than go buy it from a grocery store,” Rice said. “And there are so many possibilities to what you can grow instead of buy.”

 Not only does gardening contribute to a healthy lifestyle, but you also get the satisfaction of being able to eat what you spent your time and effort growing.

“It adds to the joy of eating when you know the food came from you,” Rice said. 

While many people are intrigued by the idea of gardening and would love to grow their own produce as a step towards a more sustainable lifestyle, they have no idea where to start or how to garden appropriately. A program in the Bay Area that is focused on giving area-specific advice and education to gardeners is the Master Gardener program. 

Master Gardeners, who are certified by the program provide science based gardening education; While this program is country-wide, Santa Clara County has its own branch of Master Gardeners who are first trained at the University of California, Davis.

Becoming a Master Gardener requires training and dedication, but once someone gains the title they become an incredibly helpful resource to fellow gardeners. 

Candace Simpson, a former Paly science teacher, serves as a Master Gardener. Her combined love of science and gardening led her to seek out the position of Master Gardener when she retired, giving her the platform to cultivate other people’s love for gardening.

She is a strong advocate for any Bay Area gardeners to contact a Master Gardener or interact with the program through the website if they have questions, whether they are a beginner and do not know where to start or are an expert gardener who wants to learn more.

“I would say that anybody who really wants to have no false starts in gardening should get connected to Master Gardeners so that when questions arise, they can ask them,” Simpson said. 

Overall, gardening is an incredibly rewarding hobby with countless benefits towards the community and for the gardeners themselves.