Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Heritage Seed Club Meets at Zurich Spa—Top That, New York City!

Heritage Seed Club Meets at Zurich Spa—Top That, New York City!
Last night I accompanied Kim and Renee Hansen to garden club. Renee invited me to join this group of avid gardeners a year or maybe two years ago. Officially known as Zurich Seed Savers, somewhere along the line they abandoned the formal name and call themselves “garden club”.

Evidently, when she asked me to join, Renee could tell by the skeptical look on my face, that I was picturing a group of cutthroat women vying for the title of Master Gardener of the Year. So she explained, “Look, we’re only a bunch of men and women who like to dabble in dirt. We’re not formal. We meet once a month at the Spa Bar in Zurich for potluck. We share our garden successes and woes, exchange plants, seeds and seedlings. Sometimes we invite an expert to speak. But mostly we eat good food. We laugh a lot. Come on, try it. I’ll pick you up.”

So Renee and her husband Kim have been taking me to garden club ever since. Nobody calls the meeting to order. No committee reports. No budget headaches. No policy and procedures. We gather around the food, dig in, and talk about our gardens. Doesn’t get any better than that!

Last night, our group faced a crisis. Well, maybe not exactly crisis, but we had to make an important decision.

Several years ago Hillary Maxwell had gathered a group of fellow ground grubbers with the purpose of saving and propagating heritage garden seeds. She had written a grant which provided money to buy starter seeds of varieties of garden produce seldom seen in markets today.  Commercial fruits and vegetables are grown for uniform size and ease of shipping.  If it doesn’t transport easily, it doesn’t get grown. Ugly or misshapen gets discarded. One consequence of genetic uniformity, is that fruits and vegetables have lost their old time flavor. 

“After all these years of sharing plants, we pretty much have the same kind of seeds,” explained one member.

“I keep the seed bank,” said Jeanne, “and some of the seeds in it are getting old.”

“I’ll take those old seeds,” volunteered Ralph. “I have an extra plot of ground I want to work up.”

A few years ago Ralph cultivated part of his yard, mixed several seeds together in the same pot; peas, beans, beets, corn, everything. He broadcast the seed. Stuff came up side by side, helter-skelter. Sounds like he plans a repeat performance.

Here’s what the crisis was all about. This summer Hillary and Bob Maxwell sold their place in Zurich and moved to Landusky.  Garden club had a tough decision to make. How could we keep going without the leadership of Hillary, the backbone of our group?

Last night I asked the fifteen or so members gathered around the table, “How many years has this group been meeting?”

“A long time.” “Hmmm. Fifteen?” “Seventeen?” “Well, it was back before so and so moved away because they were with us at least two years, when was that, honey?” Mentally, I did the math—less than twenty but more than fifteen.

Shy though I am, I opened my mouth. I urged the group to continue to meet monthly.” In my experience with organizations,” I told them, “anything less frequent and the club would wither away.” I confess that this was all selfish on my part. I want garden club to continue because I need their help and wisdom and encouragement with my own garden. Besides, garden club is fun.

After lively discussion, the group put together a schedule of monthly meetings through May when we knock off for the summer to tend our garden plots. By then we will know if we want to resume in the fall.

Gaye, who opens the bar on a weekday evening so we can have a meeting room, quickly agreed to our continued schedule.  “You gardeners bring wonderful dishes for your pot luck. Where else am I going to get such a good meal,” she added. The Spa, a roadhouse bar closed most nights, has become a community center, a gathering place for events and celebrations.

For two hours we sat around the potluck feast, ate and shared yarns about gardens (the good, the bad and the weedy), skunks (how to build a live trap without stink), spiders (huge spider spun web in the garden shed—shades of Charlotte) and potato bugs (first ones in years—picked them off by hand).

I carried home five kinds of heritage peppers you will not find on any grocery shelf. To mariachi music, I chopped the peppers, added tomatoes, onions and cilantro from my garden and canned salsa to last me the year.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

September 27, 2012

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