Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Lifetime of Gardening: Learn Once, Get Forever

Yao Fou Chao, preparing to weedwhack, and Sue McGann at Marra Farm
At Lettuce Link, one way we engage community members in growing and sharing fresh produce is by supporting the work of Giving Gardeners across the city.

A Giving Garden can take many forms. It may be a garden plot dedicated to growing food for donation in a P-Patch or other community garden. It may be a group of volunteers who glean from their garden plots for donation. Or it may simply be a community of people that grow and share produce together.

Yao Fou Chao works with all types of Giving Gardens. As a Mien immigrant and Washington State University Extension garden educator, Yao Fou primarily works with Mien, Lao, and Hmong gardeners. At the Mien Community Garden at Marra Farm and three other P-Patches in Seattle, he teaches gardeners how to grow food in Seattle, where the climate is very different from the highlands of Laos.

Yao Fou has been a farmer his whole life and is eager to share his knowledge. Sometimes Yao Fou has to tell someone "you can't grow that here." But he’s quick to help that person find a different vegetable to grow instead.

He also shares resources widely. If he gets bitter melon seeds that won't grow here due to the cooler summers, he then finds a garden in Yakima that will take them. There's no reason to waste good seeds just because they won't grow here!

Yao Fou knows his community, and he knows what they like to eat! He serves his community by donating from his own garden and encouraging the gardeners he works with to donate their extra produce to the Beacon Ave Food Bank and the ACRS Food Bank in the International District. People that visit these food banks delight in the familiar varieties of Asian greens, cucumbers, beans, and squash.

Yao Fou also serves his community by teaching and sharing his knowledge. He is particularly concerned that Asian youth learn not just the skills, but also the importance of growing food. "Learn once, get forever," he says, expressing his conviction that learning to garden is a skill that lasts a lifetime.

The Mien Community Garden and the P-Patches Yao Fou works with are lucky to have his expertise. At Lettuce Link, we’re lucky to work with him, too!

~ Mariah Pepper, Harvest Coordinator

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