Gardening for Good

Spring Edition 2024 | Living Power Magazine

Of all the post-retirement activities and hobbies, gardening ranks among the top pursuits of those with more time to spend on the things they love—and no wonder. A study published last year in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health found people who garden, particularly in community gardens, increased their overall well-being by exercising more, eating more fiber, and staying connected to others in their community. A 2018 study from the journal Clinical Medicine found that gardening reduces stress and can also lower the risk of developing dementia.

The benefits of gardening, however, go far beyond the personal. Some have found ways to garden that also benefit the environment, those with food insecurity, and the community at large.

Master Plan

In 1979, NC State Extension launched its volunteer initiative to help guide homeowners in making environmentally sound decisions in their landscapes. Now 45 years later, the NC State Extension Master GardenerSM program has grown to an extensive network with outposts in every county in the state, with volunteer opportunities in 75 counties.

“These are programs that engage people from the community—local citizens and residents and people who are interested in learning more and also want to volunteer,” says Charlotte Glen, NC State Extension Master Gardener program manager.

The Extension Master Gardener program isn’t simply a horticulture class. While participants do learn about gardening best practices during their training—which includes 40 hours of instruction and a 40-hour internship—those skills simply serve as the basis of the real work done by volunteers.

Once trained through their local extension office, volunteers begin working in their communities on projects that include installing plant labels with QR codes linked to the Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox—the extension’s plant database—in demonstration gardens. Both those initiatives, alongside workshops and other educational outreach, are designed to educate the community about growing their own food, as well as planting gardens that benefit local ecosystems.

“With our Extension Master Gardener program, we’re focusing on home gardening,” Glen says. “The goal is improving quality of life and helping people have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and helping people take care of their yard in a way that protects the environment.”

Extension Master Gardener volunteers also have been instrumental in setting up and maintaining community gardens across the state. These gardens, along with home gardening initiatives, have become an important part of the Extension’s work to reduce food insecurity in North Carolina.

“There are a lot of different activities across the state around helping people grow their own food, whether it’s starting a garden in their yard, being more successful with their gardening, or working with community gardens,” Glen says. “It’s building local production so people don’t have to rely on food being shipped in from somewhere else to a grocery store that may be miles from their home.”

Extension Master Gardener volunteers Ann Farnham (left) and
Susan Levy (right) lead therapeutic horticulture activities for
groups at the Siler City Center for Active Living.
Photos by Steve Broscious

Some Extension Master Gardener volunteers also operate therapeutic gardening programs, designed to improve both physical and mental health in their community. “They’re helping people through gardening, basically helping them improve their health and wellbeing,” Glen says. “The program helps whether it’s physically through the exercise of gardening, or mentally, because there are so many benefits of being around plants.”

Master Gardener volunteers also sometimes get to be a part of statewide research initiatives conducted by NC State, such as a recent study that explored how managing perennial stems increases the ability of residential landscapes to provide habitat for some pollinators, such as bee and wasp species that live and reproduce in plant stems.

“We had volunteers in different counties across the state collecting stems and sending them to some of our researchers on campus, and lo and behold, they found pollinators in them,” Glen says. “And that’s the land grant’s mission—to do research and then through Extension, take that information out to the people and make a difference.”

Glen says the Extension Master Gardener program offers a wide range of roles across the state, and no matter the job, those who give their time can be certain they’re making a difference in not only their community, but the world. “It’s not just a gardening class,” she says. “It’s for people who want to learn about gardening, and then use that knowledge to help others.”

To learn more about the NC State Extension Master Gardener volunteer program, visit EMGV.CES.NCSU.edu.

A Fresh Perspective

During her tenure as principal of a K–12 school that catered to students with significant intellectual and physical disabilities, Kelli Howe knew she wanted to enact programs that would prepare these kids to obtain jobs upon graduation.

Outside the facility, several old greenhouses stood in a state of disrepair, remnants of a horticulture program the school offered during the 1970s and ‘80s. Howe thought they could be salvaged and obtained funding from the school board to refurbish them. Around that time, an acquaintance brought Howe an article about the Charlotte-based nonprofit 100 Gardens, which builds and operates aquaponic gardens in schools, prisons, and communities in need.

“I learned about aquaponics and it seemed to be the perfect fit because it’s very repetitive, predictable, and schedule-driven, which is what a lot of special needs students, especially students with autism, need,” she says.

Aquaponics is a farming method that raises edible freshwater fish and vegetables together in a symbiotic environment. A tank holds fish, such as tilapia or catfish, which provide natural fertilizer for vegetables that are rooted in water in a separate tank. The vegetables absorb nutrients from that fertilizer, providing clean water that goes back to the fish.

“We started off in a very small way—we raised about $2,500 and got one very small table, one tank, and seven fish,” Howe says. “We trialed that for about five months, and the kids loved it.”

That first tank led to a larger enterprise at the school that still operates today and provides all the lettuce for a local restaurant. After Howe retired, she joined the board of 100 Gardens and now works with the nonprofit as education director to install aquaponic systems in schools and other locations across North Carolina. She says she enjoys the work she does with 100 Gardens not only because it’s fun, but also because it gives her a chance to enact change that can potentially improve our environment.

“It’s a relationship—aquaponics is a symbiotic system, and that’s the same way I’ve always felt about the earth,” she says. “These gardens are a way to show people their impact on the earth and how if we don’t improve our situation, we will no longer be able to garden outside. It just gives a different perspective.”

To learn more about aquaponics, visit 100Gardens.org.

Sustainable Seeds

Teri Stanley has always loved gardening. Growing up in a farming family, she developed an early appreciation for cultivating plants, be they vegetables or flowers. After retiring from Nash County Schools, Stanley dedicated more time to gardening, and she found she liked starting from scratch with seeds rather than buying plants.

“I like flowers, and it’s nice to plant from seeds, so you know what you’re getting,” she says. “I also like to have fresh vegetables—it’s nice to go in the yard and pick things and know where they came from.”
While the growing season is pretty long in North Carolina, Stanley says you have to start planting prior to the last frost to have flowers and vegetables—which can take months to grow—ready when summer hits. So she devised a way to recycle items from her home to create mini-greenhouses for seedlings.

Stanley uses empty plastic juice bottles and milk jugs filled with dirt to plant her seeds, putting them outside in her raised beds to grow. She says not only do the containers protect the tender sprouts from the cold, bugs, and birds, but they also facilitate a more conducive growing environment than indoors.

“When you grow seeds inside, they get kind of leggy, and this keeps them from getting leggy,” she says. “Plus, they are more acclimated to being outside, so it’s easier to transplant them from the container.”

Stanley says her homemade greenhouses allow her to garden not only more successfully, but more sustainably, as well. And she says this method reduces the investment in planting a garden, making it accessible to just about anyone.

“I try to recycle as much as I can,” she says. “And with that and a packet of seeds, even if you don’t have good luck with your plants, you’re wasting maybe a dollar or 50 cents. But I promise you, if those seeds do come up, they will make you feel so good.”

Local Outreach: District 6 @ Albemarle NC

July 23 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Stanly County Public Library | 133 East Main St | Albemarle NC 28001

Other Questions? Call 919-834-4652 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 3 @ Lexington NC

July 17 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Lexington Public Library | 602 S Main Street | Lexington NC 27292

Other Questions? Call 919-834-4652 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 3 @ Winston-Salem NC

July 10 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Senior Services | 2895 Shorefair Dr NW | Winston-Salem NC 27105

Other Questions? Call 919-834-4652 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 9 @ Whiteville NC

June 17 @ 10:30 am 11:30 am

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Whiteville Senior Center | 827 Washington St | Whiteville NC 28472

Other Questions? Call 919-834-4652 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 4 @ Pittsboro NC

June 13 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Pittsboro Center for Active Living | 365 Highway 87 North | Pittsboro NC 27312

Other Questions? Call (800) 356-1190 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 4 @ Oxford NC

June 5 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Granville County Senior Services | 107 Lanier St | Oxford NC 27565

Other Questions? Call (800) 356-1190 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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President’s Message

by Dr. Michael Taylor | Spring 2024 Living Power Magazine

Desire to Serve Others

The Japanese have a concept called IKIGAI (ee-kee-gay), which loosely translates into the happiness of always being busy doing something you love. IKIGAI combines your passion (what you love doing) with your vocation (what you are good at), with what the world needs (the job market), and finally, what you can get paid to do!

As retirees, we all followed different paths into the public sector. Maybe it was a family history of public service or perhaps somebody who inspired us. A teacher told me a kind and caring high school teacher inspired her to spend a career in the classroom. As retired public servants, we are fortunate because there were so many opportunities in the public sector that allowed us to find a calling that fits our passion and our mission.

One size does not fit all when it comes to our enthusiasm for public service, so the Japanese concept of IKIEGA sounds right. In the days of black-and-white TV, Frank Lovejoy was the lead detective in a crime drama called “Naked City.” No, it was not a show about a nudist colony; instead, it was a story about crime in a city with eight million people. The show opened with, “There are eight million stories in the naked city.” There are that many stories and more about why our members devoted their careers to public service.

One association member, who served in county government, explained it this way: “This was an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives and to help provide them with opportunities to be successful. And not just individuals, but the job impacted the quality of life in entire communities.”

Another retiree, who worked in technology in county government, was inspired by her father to go into public service. She explains she was a second-generation public servant. “My father was a postmaster, and I grew up watching his devotion to serving the public.”

Family played a role in the decision of another NCRGEA member who was a social worker. “Having experienced a challenging childhood with divorced parents and relocation of the family at a critical age for me, I felt the best way to help children and families in crisis was through social work. The reward was certainly not financial but absolutely the satisfaction of enhancing healthy families.”

Still, another member who retired from the community college system explained it this way. “I have loved every aspect of my career because I was helping to build something or helping people have a better quality of life.”

And finally, a public education retiree noted his grandfather was a Chief of Police, and his mother was a first-grade teacher. He explained, “Those of us who began work in the sixties understood the theme of the time was more about ‘we’ than ‘me.’

That’s what public servants do; they aspire to help the ‘we,’ WE wanted to help.”

President’s Path

As for me, the road began as a student at Lenoir Community College in Kinston, where a group of dedicated and hard-working faculty and staff convinced a kid who graduated from high school in half of the class that made the top half possible, he was capable of so much more. Not only did I get my first degree there, but the desire to be like those who inspired me. This led to a 32-year career in our great community college system.

NCRGEA has over 65,000 members. If I could talk to all of you, I am certain I would hear many different stories about the roads you followed into public service. Yes, different stories, but somewhere in each of those stories would be the same passion to serve others, to make a difference. As one person I spoke with said, “My job was a higher calling.”

One of my duties as President of NCRGEA is to pen a column for every edition of Living Power. This is my final column, as my two-year term as NCRGEA president is over in June. During these two years, I have had a chance to visit with many of you at district conferences (Winston-Salem, Hendersonville, Shelby, Durham, Fayetteville, Morehead City, Greenville, Concord, and Raleigh) and at our legislative days in Raleigh, and even on Zoom. It has been an honor to represent such a great group of people who have dedicated their careers to the service of others.

In thinking about the subject matter for this final column, I considered several topics, including all the changes at your association over the past two years, along with the challenges we face as an organization. But finally, I thought the best topic would be to consider exactly what we all shared during our careers: a desire to serve others.

District 3: Forsyth Lunch Cruisers!

July 11 @ 11:15 am 1:00 pm

Members of District 3 are encouraged to attend this gathering for lunch, fellowship, and fun!

Todays event is sponsored by your Community Advisory Board (CAB) of District 3. Have questions? Reach out to Robin Kelly via email at reklc1@yahoo.com.

Location:

K & W Cafeteria | 3300 Healy Drive | Winston-Salem, NC 27103

You’ll need to cover your own meal expenses.

(919) 834-4652

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District 3: Forsyth Lunch Cruisers!

June 13 @ 11:15 am 1:00 pm

Members of District 3 are encouraged to attend this gathering for lunch, fellowship, and fun!

Todays event is sponsored by your Community Advisory Board (CAB) of District 3. Have questions? Reach out to Robin Kelly via email at reklc1@yahoo.com.

Location:

Tin Tin China Buffet [Beside Costco] | 110 Hanes Sq. Shopping Center | Winston-Salem, NC 27103

You’ll need to cover your own meal expenses.

(919) 834-4652

View Organizer Website