Ohio State gardening experts are on a mission to support both first-time and experienced growers despite restrictions on in-person classes.
Timothy McDermott, agriculture and natural resources educator at the Franklin County office of OSU Extension, operates a virtual gardening classroom to support community gardeners, urban farmers, agricultural teachers and novices alike.
“Anything that I can do that gets people back into the garden is great and it helps provide for personal family food security,” said McDermott. “Especially now, with what we’re dealing with and the challenges that we have, I am delighted to do that.”
Interest in gardening has skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly vegetable growing. As distribution chains experience disruption, people across the country are concerned about food security. Vegetable gardening can be viewed as an additional food supply during times of crisis.
Jaime Calder of Round Rock, Texas, recently started a family garden with collard greens, chard, onions, blackberries, and watermelons. “It’s supplementary gardening,” she says. “There’s no way this would sustain a family of five. But we’re amping it up, so we can try and avoid the store a little more in the coming months.”
Gardening of any kind, whether it’s vegetables or other plants, can also serve as a form of stress relief. Many find working with their hands to be relaxing, and time spent outdoors offers a number of mental health benefits. It’s also easy to maintain social distance while gardening.
“They’re looking for a health and wellness activity,” McDermott says of the majority of participants in his online classes, “something that can keep them in a positive mood, something that still maintains social distance, and being able to grow your own food is a great activity.”
Planting a garden also makes for an excellent family-friendly pastime as parents can engage children while educating them at the same time. “Planting a few potatoes can be quite a revelation to a child,” said Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society.
So far, OSU Extension has offered more than 25 gardening classes on topics such as combatting weeds and growing an herb garden. Upcoming classes include the Fall Gardening Series which will cover how to plant a fall garden, end-of-season gardening tips, and maintaining your garden during winter. Classes are free but registration is required. Although sessions are open to any individual, group or organization, most people who sign up are complete beginners.
McDermott has even ventured beyond gardening to hold classes in backyard poultry production. As with vegetable gardening, poultry production can serve as an additional food source during a crisis when food security concerns tend to be at their highest.
McDermott’s virtual classroom not only educates community members on a productive and relaxing pastime, but it also addresses a very human need to recoup a sense of agency during difficult times, a need that extends well beyond the Ohio region. Many things seem out of our control these days and growing one’s own vegetables and poultry can increase self-reliance and alleviate stress over access to food.
“It wasn’t too many generations ago when everyone planted and maintained a garden,” says McDermott, “and we’ve lost some of that base knowledge.” But he’s hopeful about the future of his work at OSU Extension. “I want people to start gardening this year but keep gardening next year, and every year after that.”