Enrique Peredo, the Master Gardener project leader at the Growing Together Community Gardens in Hinesburg, is offering gardening help to people of color.
Initially, Peredo made his offer via social media specifically for the community garden plots.
Now all the plots have been reserved there, he said, but the offer still stands and he is willing to go to peoples’ gardens around town to share his expertise.
As well as sharing any knowledge he has as a Master Gardener, Peredo also wants to learn more about gardening in other cultures and countries from neighbors.
Peredo, who is from Guam, moved to the mainland United States in 1986 at 17 years old to go to college.
“We live in a town where I think, generally, people feel safe,” Peredo said. “I still am interested in encouraging the Black, Indigenous and people of color community to reach out to me and maybe for us to form a community around gardening if there’s enough people interested.”
The Master Gardener title is misleading, Peredo said, as he’s not done learning: “We may have some expertise in various areas, but we’re not experts on every aspect of growing.”
Diversity in gardening
Peredo said he would like to learn more about growing more diverse and integrated gardens, as opposed to monoculture gardens, often found in the U.S., in which beds or fields contain just one type of vegetable.
Growing up he didn’t see fields or hoop houses with rows 30 inches wide by 100 feet long with just lettuce.
For example, Peredo would love to get tips about adapting Asian varieties of vegetables that may be more tropical in nature into the more temperate climate of Vermont.
Growing up in Guam, he learned different gardening practices than those most commonly practiced locally.
“Both my parents were gardeners. My father did mostly vegetables and my mom was the flower gardener. It was a mixture of mostly tropical perennial plants versus annuals,” Peredo said.
Both vegetable and flower gardens in Guam have more perennials, he said, including hot peppers and turmeric.
“Some root vegetables like yams, and even jicama, were not planted in the middle of a bed. They were planted along the edge of wooded areas,” Peredo said.
In Guam, he said, pumpkins are often grown as perennial vegetables with plants being nurtured for several seasons instead of being harvested after one season. Rather than being grown for their fruit, pumpkins are often grown for the tips of new shoots which are eaten as greens.
Likewise, the fruit of the banana tree is not the only part of the plant that is eaten in Guam — “The end of the flower tip of a banana tree is definitely edible.” Often banana flower tips are pickled.
“I’ve actually learned a lot of things about growing vegetables differently here than growing up on Guam,” he said.
The exchange of practices and knowledge Peredo hopes for with other gardeners of color is very consistent with the mores of the Master Gardener program, he said.
“The Master Gardener system is one where you’re constantly learning and constantly adapting to the growing environments here in Vermont and elsewhere in the United States.”
Standing in a driving wind with snow near whiteout conditions at the Growing Together Community Garden behind the Community Alliance Church on Pond Road on Friday morning, April 2, Peredo was joined by Jean Kiedaisch and Terry Marron.
Kiedaisch was the Master Gardener project leader to the gardens until former intern Peredo took over for her two years ago.
Marron joined last year as another Master Gardener offering her help.
Kiedaisch said one benefit of being a Master Gardener was access to gardening knowledge, to experts at UVM and to testing for diseases or pests at the UVM lab.
Master Gardening is not just learning about vegetable gardening, Peredo said. It’s everything from flower gardening to people with problems with wooded property.
If the Master Gardeners can’t answer a question, they will provide gardeners with a resource where they can find the answer, he said.
All three said they were confident gardening would start sometime in mid-April despite that morning’s bitter cold.
Of greater concern to them was what the yet-to-be-issued Master Gardener COVID protocols will allow them to do this spring.
“The gardens last year here happened,” Peredo said. “We as Master Gardeners just couldn’t be here in our official capacity.”
Until July, the gardeners still made visits to the Growing Together Community Gardens, but they couldn’t count any of those hours for their 20 annually required volunteer hours for the Master Gardener program, Peredo said.
Measures were taken last year to guard against COVID spread, including a signup sheet for contact tracing, hand sanitizer and paper towels and strict rules for young garden helpers who might be more likely to stray outside their plot boundaries.