Martha Prusinkas, Olivewood Gardens Learning Center
The organization Olivewood Gardens Learning Center came about because I worked with the original family on the property and did the organic gardening for Ms. Walton for 20 years. They saw the potential here for gardening and for teaching children about gardening. I’m now teaching the classes out here in the gardens.
I went back to school when I was 40 to get a horticulture license. I was looking for a summer job and there was a post “Organic Gardener Wanted.” I had worked as an organic gardener for the Golden Door many years ago. I thought, “I can do that!” So I came over and I was the only one who applied for the organic gardener position, so that’s how I got the position. I stayed on because I love working in the gardens. I was able to farm organically without having to worry about having to meet a financial need, right? So it was a great position.
No, I had no degrees. It’s all about learning by doing and taking classes here and there. Before that, like I said, I worked for Golden Door in their gardens for about fifteen years. So then I went home and had babies, took care of my children, and then when I was in my 40s I wanted to go back to school. I never did finish because I got this job here and I could learn so much more about gardening working here than I felt I could learn in a school setting.
Now I see the importance, but then, when my children were growing up, they would just come here after school every day and work with me. I never thought of them needing to have that outlook, but now I see how valuable it is. Even though none of them have used their experiences professionally, they all do it at home. When my oldest son was at San Diego State, he did an instructional essay on how to grow lettuce. I was so proud of him because I thought he wasn’t paying attention all those years and he had. So now, it’s there and they’re starting to use some of the knowledge they have of growing their own fruit in their yards. What they’re trying to do here is teach people how to grow some produce, use their yards to grow fruit, fresh greens, herbs, to really add to their diet.
One of the things that keeps me doing this is awakening something in the children when I work with them – because remember, I’m working with third graders and they’re giddy and sweet and loving. Then fourth graders are a little more intense and fifth graders are really good workers. One of the things that I really strive to do is to let them see the magic that’s going on with plants, that’s happening out in the yard because that’s how I came to it. I did not grow up gardening.
I had no interest in it, but once I was at the Golden Door where they’re surrounded by gardens, and you take walks out there, it woke me up to what’s going on in the plant world. So that’s what I’m trying to hopefully help these children see. Once you wake that up, they will do the work to find out what’s going on and be involved with that process.