University City

Gardeners learn sustainability at community gardening workshop

Edwin Koehler, a University City community garden leader, found last weekend’s statewide workshop inspiring, thanks to Pecha Kucha, a rapid-fire presentation technique associated more often with avant-garde artists than with down-to-earth gardeners.

Jake Emerson, who also attended the Durham gathering, is a UNC Charlotte Levine Scholar who’s organizing a community garden on the UNCC campus. For Emerson, highlights included a presentation on permaculture, an innovative approach to agriculture based on ecological design.

The community gardening workshop Nov. 9 brought together more than 120 community garden organizers and leaders from across the state. Organized by N.C. Community Garden Partners, a nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, the workshop was titled “Nurturing Sustainable Community Gardens: How to Get Rooted in Your Community.”

Koehler is one of five “garden captains” at University City’s Reedy Creek Park Community Garden. The large and popular garden on Grier Road is sponsored by Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.

Koehler was especially impressed by Pecha Kucha, fast-paced, visually oriented presentations using a computer slide program such as Powerpoint, with strict limits: 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each. That translates to less than seven minutes for a whole presentation.

Loosely translated from the Japanese as chit-chat, Pecha Kucha was invented in Tokyo in 2003 as a way for designers and artists to quickly share creative concepts. It has since become a worldwide phenomenon, with its own organization and website:

The Durham audience was skeptical at first. Hourlong PowerPoints on such perennial garden favorites as composting and garden management had already run out of time.

How could five meaningful presentations fit into 60 minutes, on a wide variety of topics reflecting community gardening’s traditional big tent? Presentations ranged from a group of senior professional women who organized their own garden, to N.C. Food Corps volunteers, to farm projects with Hmong and Karin refugees.

Forty-five intense minutes later, presenters earned an extended ovation.

“It was very inspiring and awesome to see so many successes and experiences with gardening as an agent of change for so many different types of people all over the state,” Koehler said.

“Some refugees, some children, some entrepreneurs, some hobbyists, yet all the presentations clearly showed the power that this medium has to bring their communities together. That, and the fact that the Hmong people know how to grow some serious vegetables!”

Emerson and fellow Levine Scholar Kevin Rodengen, who also attended the conference, have been working together for the past year to create a student-led community garden at UNCC.

Rodengen reports they have assembled “a great team” of students and intend to start construction of the garden next spring. They want “to make sure our garden is a permanent addition to UNCC and to help open more students’ eyes to a sustainable world with fresh locally grown food.”

The Levine Scholars Program, led by Diane Zablotsky, is UNC Charlotte’s most prestigious merit scholarship program. Established in 2009 by benefactors Sandra and Leon Levine, it grants 15 highly competitive Levine Scholarships each year, including full tuition, room and board, summer programs, and a grant to implement a service project of the scholar’s own design.

The proposed UNCC community garden is Emerson and Rodengen’s Levine Scholars service project.

Emerson came away impressed with the Durham gathering:

“The conference was phenomenal in that it addressed the wide array of topics and concerns that must be considered when community gardening.

“As a student working to bring a community garden to my campus at UNC Charlotte,” Emerson said, “I took away countless pieces of knowledge that will be instrumental to the success of the project, from effective community building to exciting practices of Permaculture.”