CORVALLIS, Ore. - For many people a sweet carrot pulled from the soil or a spicy pepper picked fresh from the garden isn't how they get their vegetables, if they get them at all.
The Seed to Supper program, a partnership between Oregon State University's Extension Service and the Oregon Food Bank, is working to change that. The free, five-week course teaches adults from low-income families how to grow and enjoy their own vegetables, said Pami Opfer, a coordinator for Extension's Master Gardener Program.
More than 800 people have completed the program, taught in large part by Master Gardeners, in 55 classes since 2013, according to Opfer. This year Seed to Supper has expanded to include Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Marion, Polk, Hood River, Tillamook, Umatilla, Morrow, Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties.
On a recent evening in Corvallis, a group of 13 people gathered around a table, pulling apart tiny starts of marjoram, parsley and thyme, then picking up bamboo chopsticks to gently tuck them into plastic containers filled with potting soil. Jennifer Klammer, an OSU Extension Master Gardener since 2011, and volunteer Donna Durbin led them through the process.
The two women, who founded a garden at their church that donates more than 2,000 pounds of produce a year to assist local residents in need, took it upon themselves to start the program in Linn and Benton counties in the winter of 2013 after Klammer saw information about Seed to Supper on the food bank's website.
"Working in the garden and donating food, it seemed like there was a missing link," Klammer said. "This gives people a sense of control over their food source. It's especially hard for low-income folks to get high-quality produce. It's expensive. But if you can grow a salad bowl on your deck and it's easy, why not?"
Class participant Cindel Mikesell agreed.
"I tell people I know who have balconies and say they can't garden, 'Yes, you can,' Mikesell said. "I've read about a woman in England that grew $5,000 worth of food on her balcony. I'd like to do that."
Breanne and Bobby Taylor, who brought along their new baby, said they came to the class so they could help Bobby's aging father manage his garden and to learn time-saving tips that would help them as new parents, who both work full-time and manage a community garden plot.
To help, they'll receive a 96-page handbook, seeds and starts.
"They have the booklet, which is always a reference," Durbin said. "And they can always contact the Master Gardeners. People end up feeling connected. Their response has been overwhelmingly positive."
Participants learn the basics in classes that include lessons in how to build healthy soil and plan, plant, care for and harvest a garden.
Brittney Fry, who enthusiastically jotted notes as the class went on, said she'd shown up because she's motivated to garden but has never done it before.
"I have a weed patch now," she said. "I have three small kids, and I'm really excited getting them into it - growing things they'll love and enjoy."
Upcoming classes are being held in the following locations:
Albany: March 19 to April 16
Lebanon: March 10 to April 7
Portland: March 1-29; April 12 to May 17
Sandy: March 7 to April 4
In other counties, check with your local Master Gardener program.
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Pami Opfer, 541-766-6750