By Lauren Zeugner
It was a gray, February afternoon in northern Indiana, but that didn’t stop 55 people from attending Chautauqua-Wawasee’s latest event, “Gardening in the Face of a Changing Climate,” featuring John Edgerton, held Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Oakwood Inn. Those attending came from as far as Fort Wayne and South Bend, as well as Elkhart and Kosciusko counties.
The event was sponsored by Chautauqua-Wawasee, Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation and the Syracuse-Wawasee Garden Club. “This was our first event collaborating with WACF and Syracuse-Wawasee Garden Club on an event,” said Mark Knecht, executive director of Chautauqua-Wawasee. “Pam Schumm, WACF, and Martha Stoelting, Syracuse-Wawasee Garden Club, were key to making this a success. We will likely do other programs together and possibly bring John back again at some point.”
Edgerton, of Shelbyville, Mich., has been doing small scale farming for 40 years, striving to always work in cooperation with nature. Throughout the workshop, he and those attending explored wholistic, resilient, sustainable techniques for gardening and small scale farming.
Edgerton is no stranger to the area, he told the crowd, his family often had family reunions up on the hill at Oakwood and he still comes to visit friends who live in the area.
Referring to the workshop’s title, “Gardening in the Face of Climate Change,” Edgerton said he considered gardening to range from container gardening on the patio to small scale farming. “All of us regardless of background have a connection to the land,” he said.
He spoke of incorporating indigenous wisdom, saying we need to listen to Native American elders as well as others who remember what the land was like in the past.
Speaking on climate change, Edgerton said just because Americans are the go to guys to fix a problem, doesn’t mean we’ll come up with a technological fix. “We’re not alone in this. The only way to fix this is to restore a relationship with plants and animals …,” he said.
Edgerton noted there is no secret in our culture talking about climate change. People realize something is afoot and are responding at a grassroots level. Edgerton noted farmers in his area are starting to talk about the climate and the impact it’s having on their livelihood.
Asked what the audience wanted to discuss, some participants asked how to have a sustainable garden year-round using greenhouses and how to do that in a very small space. Another question was how to compost in an urban space and a third person said they noticed plants that were known for their consistency now struggle. A fourth person asked for tips and advice to young farmers and gardeners.
Edgerton said he was excited and encouraged by the number of young people becoming interested in agriculture. He strongly suggesting finding other people to form a community with.
Edgerton responded to the question about greenhouses by explaining he has a 40 foot hoop house on his property and his partner just put up another greenhouse to be used for educational purposes, as well as to push the growing season. He noted a lot of people are looking to push the growing season. “Everybody needs good food,” he said.
Edgerton noted how things were different during World War II compared to today. Back then most people had victory gardens. “I was amazed. During World War II, those gardens accounted for 40 percent of the fresh food during the war,” Edgerton said. He remembered grandparents and others talking about having small backyard gardens and community gardens as well as gardens at local schools. Today less than 67% of the people in the rural area Edgerton lives in have a garden.
The discussion turned to various ways of composting as well as incorporating native bacteria, fungi and insects to improve soil quality. “The more we know about soil … We’re really good soil farmers. If we take care of the soil and the sun shines, things will work,” Edgerton said.
The conversation then turned to Native American practices, use of cover crops and re-mineralizing the soil so it can be more productive. After discussing various methods to preserve the soil, Edgerton noted, “these methods take balance and timing.”