"Growing Food, Sharing Skills, Building Community".  What a great concept geared to community and personal strength and resilience.  This is the spirit and motto of an initiative started in 2009 at the Penns Valley Learning Garden.  

            Community gardens - where  one may borrow free or with nominal charge a small plot for personal vegetable production - are not rare, but that is not what we do here!

             Many folks in our community are well versed in gardening skills and/or have elders for tutelage, but that is not the case for all.  Penns Valley has many young and transient folks without those benefits. 

             The year 2008 and since (read: economic recession) saw seed and gardening product sales go through the roof nationwide.  That's good news, but it does not easily translate to food production without skills. And, we have folks who may be masters at something but wish to learn a skill yet unknown to them.

             The answer to these issues is the PV Learning Garden.

             This a place where demonstrations occur in gardening technique and related skills in self-reliance.  It is a place of demonstration and learning - for hosts and public alike.  It is also a place where some great food is produced. Collocated with the Millheim Farmer's Market on the west end of Millheim, Pennsylvania, we sell harvested and pick-your-own produce on a non-profit basis to fund the garden and homestead education endeavor. Overage is offered to local food outreach services.

             Partnerships are a key ingredient to making the totality of our motto work.  Partners may include individuals, businesses, organizations (The Farmer's Market, PVCA, schools, churches, etc.). Community is involved greatly by the support of local businesses who loaned a big hand in 2009 and we hope will continue.  A "sponsor board" on our donated garden shed lists those businesses. We hope the community will reciprocate the favor by supporting those businesses - more community building.

             Started in spring 2009, a few local compatriots and eccentric homesteaders brainstormed the need while snow was still in the air.  The location adjacent to the Farmer's Market occurred for several reasons including available space, a willing host - American Legion Post 444 - and largely the popular Saturday venue where people gather to patronize local farmers and enjoy good company and friendly if not sometimes impassioned discussion.  Market vendors were so pleased with the symbiotic interaction of the garden's first year, they asked the gardeners to become more integrally involved.

             Now, the garden hosts occasional feature seminars during market hours.  The precise schedule and subjects are posted. Some of these are geared to the garden itself, while others are related skills to simple and resilient living. 

             The gardeners are starting discussion with PVCA given the obvious intersection of the Garden's intentions and  PVCA's start in providing self-sufficiency skills education.  We'd like to see a partnership there.

             There is plenty more occurring and planned - cold-cellar food storage; produce preserving; season extension; rainwater irrigation; pest management; composting; soil amendment; hoop-houses; herbs; tree, vine and bramble fruits and a variety of homestead and sustainability skills.

             The Penn's Valley Learning Garden functions on community volunteerism. Do you have a nagging voice suggesting a little more resilience to hard times?  Would you like to know more about gardening? Are you already an accomplished food producer of some sort?  Can you appreciate the coming together of community - of all ages and all backgrounds - to make a stronger and varied place to live?

             If you haven't visited the Millheim Farmer's Market lately, you are missing out on a couple things - good, fresh, local food produced by neighbor-farmers and The Penns Valley Learning Garden (PVLG), so make it a stop on your Saturday chore list.  Better yet, make an offer to participate by helping to tend the garden or share your skills.  We ALL have something to offer and something to learn!! We can also use expertise in administration, grant writing, non-profit management, computer and internet skills…the list goes on.  Come join the movement on local food and resiliency!


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