By Calie Brummer
M R Gardens of Asheville’s new program, Grow, gives students of all ages a chance to learn about farming while sharing in a bountiful harvest after each lesson. The cooperative learning experience, which began in October, is open to students of all ages who seek to learn how to cultivate food in diversified, ecologically sound gardens. Students not only learn the best techniques for growing their food; they get to harvest their own take-home basket of fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs at the end of the day.
“The Grow program is for the home gardener who is eager to learn sustainable methods and does well in a hands-on, educational setting,” says Megan Riley, owner of M R Gardens. “It’s also for people who want to grow their own food but don’t have a garden space of their own, for people who prefer to garden alongside others rather than alone, and it’s great for avid cooks who love a weekly basket of fresh food.”
The program, led by Riley, offers specific education on growing fruits and vegetables and also educates students on creating a healthy soil system to support their crops. Students will learn which native plants are vital parts of the food web, which plants attract pollinators and which beneficial microbes can convert nutrients in the soil. Participants will gather knowledge about natural landscaping, using ground covers in place of grass, growing medicinal herbs and seed starting in the M R Garden passive solar greenhouse. “This opportunity is for all types of people who want a greater connection to plants, the land and their community,” says Riley.
The program was designed to support a sustainable lifestyle by educating participants on the best ways to grow their own food. While similar to a Community Supported Agriculture model, the program’s true focus is on education and participation in the farming process. Participants gather weekly in the garden for handson lessons and spend time preparing garden beds, planting, tending to crops and enjoying the meditative work of gardening.
Participants will be able to harvest nutrient-dense foods like goumi berries and chokeberries in addition to standard seasonal fruits and vegetables, making their take-home basket of crops both exciting and unique.
Grow’s parallel program, Emergence, is designed for students who desire to make an income from farming in the future. This program aligns with budding horticultural professionals with a passion for community and farming. Both programs address the need for education when it comes to where our food comes from, which is an important part of the experience.
During her work as a gardener, Riley observed that the public is often unaware of where its food comes from. She found that the immersion program is a great way to give people in the community a chance to not only learn where and how their food is grown, but also how much effort it takes to sustain a farm.
In addition to the Grow and Emergence programs, Riley continues to offer garden coaching and edible landscape design services to clients at their homes, which she has done since 2012.
Grow meets for a full year on a weekly basis at 441 Onteora Boulevard in the Oakley community of Asheville. Enrollment is open to the public. To learn more about the Grow and Emergence programs, visit mrgardens.net.