Meet Certified Instructor Althea Llewellyn
People ask me how I got to where I am. Here’s what led me to become a Square Foot Gardening Certified Instructor. First I became a Master Tree Steward and eventually a Union County (NJ) Master Gardener. Here’s my story. As a Master Gardener, in 2013 I attended their annual Garden Fair where I met Bob Markey who was there with a Square Foot Gardening display. It was such a neat, tidy, architectural garden and that really drew me in. I began asking Bob some questions and learned that he was a SFG Certified Instructor.
Well lucky for me, Bob was looking for someone to join forces with him at his Rahway NJ Square Foot Gardening program. Bob and I have been collaborating since 2013 and I became a SFG Certified Instructor (CI) in 2016. Since then, I have been working with Bob and his successful YMCA summer camp programs at the East Orange and the Scotch Plains New Jersey locations along with CI Emillio Panasci, where we teach children to garden.
I enjoy working with very young children. I remember when a group of kids were discovering what chives look and taste like for the first time.
“It looks like grass but tastes like onions!” I’m really into edible flowers now, and nasturtium is a good-sized seed that little hands can handle pretty well. In 2016, I became a staff environmental educator at the historic Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ. The management of the arboretum asked if I would teach a Square Foot Gardening program to the community. When people naturally get involved in the process of learning about gardening, they are more willing to try a new vegetable if they grow it themselves.
The Reeves-Reed Arboretum is an environmental organization that engages, educates, and enriches its visitors. When they asked if I could start a Square Foot Gardening program for children, we saw so much interest from the adults that were visiting the arboretum, that it didn’t take long before I started teaching kids and adults Square Foot Gardening. Those lectures and demonstrations created tremendous interest from a nearby elementary school and through a partnership with the arboretum and local parents, we started a garden in the local school.
One of the parents who approached us asked if we could start a garden to help the kids learn about healthy food. The parents had a far-reaching idea of improving the quality of the food currently offered in the school cafeteria and were taking baby steps toward making that change. That’s the kind of thing that creates ripple effects.
I then started a “teach the trainer” workshop where I taught the fifthgrade teachers and volunteers about SFG. I gave them the guidelines about the dimensions and the soil components so they could build SFG beds and create the Mel’s Mix™ soil. I gave them a copy of the Square Foot Gardening book and created a program of guidelines for them to use.
This year is my second season working with the school and I love being able to combine my passion for children and gardening. I believe anyone can develop a green thumb, and Square Foot Gardening simplifies growing so it isn’t so mysterious. I want to empower individuals to get growing for better health and a better quality of life.
Tips from Althea:
In order to start a Square Foot Garden, it takes a little bit of effort. Don’t skimp on any of the steps and you will be successful. When you build a house, building the foundation is very important to the outcome. It’s the same when you are building your Square Foot Garden. In this case, it’s the Mel’s Mix™ that is the foundation; the blended compost, the vermiculite, and the peat moss that comprises Mel’s Mix™ is crucial to your success.
You may ask, can I find all the ingredients for Mel’s Mix™ in one place? You might have to go to a few places to find the ingredients, but it’s worth the effort. You’ll be saving money, time, and energy later because you won’t need to buy fertilizers and soil again for a long time. Don’t skimp on the foundation.