Matt and Chris: Hi Mary, thanks for talking to us today about your involvement in Green Bridge Growers! It’s always great for our supporters to know more about the great volunteers who contribute their time and talents with us. Could you share your own background in farming or gardening, and how you got interested in it?
Mary: I've loved growing plants since I was a little kid. I helped my Mom with her flower gardens, and my grandfather taught me how to grow vegetables. Since then I've always had a garden, no matter where I lived. In college I studied horticulture. After graduating, I moved to Maryland and started working as a grower in a horticulture training program for people with disabilities. Some of the crops we grew in our five greenhouses were poinsettias, lilies, mums, house plants, annuals and vegetable starter plants. There was a garden center on the property where customers could buy the plants.
M & C: How did you hear about Green Bridge Growers, and what attracted you to our work?
Mary: Well, when I moved to South Bend I started hearing about Green Bridge Growers from a lot of different people interested - and I was! I was interested in volunteer opportunities so I thought it would be a very good fit for my background. I love the idea of growing sustainable food through aquaponics and I'm happy to be learning about it!
M & C: What interested you most to want to work with people with disabilities, either autism in particular, or disabilities in general? How might you have worked with people with disabilities before? What was the work like, and what did you enjoy about the work?
Mary: I was close to people with disabilities as a child, and I think that was a factor that drew me into this work. I had two neighborhood friends with physical disabilities. I was in school with them for twelve years. They were fun, adventurous, and I saw how they bravely dealt with challenges. Also, my cousin has Down syndrome and she's a great, kind person and I always enjoy seeing her. When I was in college, I enjoyed working on a vegetable gardening project with people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. I learned quite a bit from one of the participants who had grown up on a farm.
Finally, I worked for several years at a horticulture training program for people with disabilities and I was fortunate to get to know those participants very well. The work day was 6, 7 hours long and everyone had to work together to get the crops grown and sold. Sometimes the work was hard, and the greenhouses would get very hot in the summer. We would get poinsettia cuttings in the late summer that our participants would pot up. Every December I loved seeing the greenhouses full of spectacular blooms and how proud everyone was to have grown them. Right after that we would start getting ready for our busy spring season, sowing flats of seed and potting up cuttings. May was incredibly busy. We had five greenhouses bursting with flats, pots and baskets of annuals and vegetable plants that needed to be sold within a few short weeks, and somehow it would always get done. It was wonderful to work with such an amazing group of people!
M & C: What things have you enjoyed most about volunteering with Green Bridge Growers so far?
Mary: I've enjoyed the enthusiasm of the participants. I like how in the space of an hour and a half, we can pick a crop, cook up a great dish, and share it with everyone at Hannah and Friends. It's very satisfying to see people ask for seconds! I love working with everyone I've met at Green Bridge Growers. It's a great concept, and I look forward to watching it grow.
M & C: What's your favorite crop to grow and eat? Do you have any special recipes do you enjoy that use this vegetable?
Mary: I'd have to say tomatoes for sure, you can't beat a fresh picked home-grown tomato. I enjoy eating them fresh - I just love drizzling them with olive oil and a little fresh basil. I also like making stuffed tomatoes and pasta sauce. If I have a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes, I roast, freeze, and enjoy them all winter long!
Here’s one of the recipes I love the most with cherry tomatoes. I look forward to making it with everyone this summer and I hope Green Bridge Growers supporters everywhere will enjoy it: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/212896/caprese-appetizer/
M&C: Thanks for talking to us today, Mary! And thanks for everything you do to help Green Bridge Growers!