Food is a force for good. Which is why we work with amazing community partners to improve and empower healthy eating in our cities. We talked about one of those partners, City Blossoms, a few weeks back when we visited the Girard Community Garden – and we recently caught up with one of the organization’s dedicated team members.

Today, we’re hearing from Willa.

Tell us a little about role with the City Blossoms team and how you came to work with the organization.

I’m the lead garden educator and group visit coordinator, so I get to collaborate with classroom teachers on garden-based lessons in schools, host field trips, and run open garden time programming. I started working with City Blossoms almost four years ago as an intern and eventually became a garden educator.

Any favorite memories of gardening when you were growing up?

I grew up on a small beef and sheep farm in central Vermont and I was always helping my mom out in our garden during the summer.

One of my earliest memories of gardening is waiting for the first Sun Gold cherry tomato to ripen. Those are the orange-y ones, and they taste like candy. Sun Golds are probably still my favorite tomato today.  

What makes the Girard Garden unique? 

The kids and neighbors are really what make Girard such a wonderfully unique place. Many of the kids have grown up coming to the space and share a real sense of ownership over it. The kids are really responsible for caring for the space, harvesting, and utilizing the produce – but it’s more than just upkeep. The kids not only create the art in the space and run a market table for people to get fresh produce; they also foster a lively curiosity that drives each open time.

Tell us about the community art installations we saw at Girard.

Almost all of the art at Girard was created by the kids that regularly attend open time. My colleague worked on a design that incorporated bike wheels, movement, and music into the garden. After installing the bike wind mills, xylophone, drums, and bike wheel shakers, we had a We Heart Art day in spring of 2014. The kids decorated the garden with flowers made of recycled materials and we invited the community to join us for a day in the garden. Kids and community members then worked together to create a collaborative fence that featured cloth woven into the bike wheels.

This fall we’re planning on working on some new compost and market signage as well as continuing to add to some of our collaborative weaving projects.

What do you think has been City Blossoms’s biggest achievement this year?

We have had a record number of people join us in the different spaces we collaborate with through volunteer days, workshops, celebrations, movie nights, open times, and more. It has been a really exciting year.

Tips for getting kids excited about veggies & gardening?

I think that part of what we do here is meet people where they’re at. So, if one of the kids is into cooking, then that’s a really great way for them to jump into the garden. If they’re into art, then making the welcome sign is always a great way for them to get involved.

But ultimately, most of the kids come in and they’re like, “I’m not getting my hands dirty.” But then once they see another kid digging and looking for worms – on the one hand it’s really disgusting to them, but at the same time it’s like the most fascinating, exciting thing they’ve ever done. So just having other kids to show them the ropes a little bit is really the way to do it. That’s so much more exciting than some adult talking to you about something.

 

Favorite late-summer produce pick? What about the fall harvest?

At Girard we’ve been really enjoying a bountiful cucumber and bean crop. Even on days when we don’t cook, some kids like to cut up a cucumber to snack on when they need a break.

We’ve also been experimenting with artichokes. They’re kind of a summer crop but they’ll really grow into the fall. We’ve never had a successful artichoke, but we’re hopeful this will be the year. Even if they come through though, we’ll probably get like three artichokes, and have to think of a recipe to split them between 20 kids. That should be a fun challenge.

What do you cook when you’re making food for loved ones?

One of my go-tos is eggplant curry. I add coriander, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, a little chili power, and lots of garlic. I put garlic in everything. Then I usually just boil the eggplant, and cut it up into little pieces and simmer with all of the spices so it really takes on the flavors.

What’s your go-to order at Cava Grill?

Supergreens Salad with Harissa, Eggplant & Red Pepper Dip, Chicken, Tons of Delicious Veggie Toppings, and the Greek Vinaigrette.