A big group of volunteers happily tackled gardening grunt work Sunday morning at Boulder’s Growing Gardens, while smaller groups helped out with two school gardens and the city’s Pollinator Pathways.
The 70-person volunteer effort was organized by Mary Ellen Vernon and Jena Jenkins through their “Gather for Good” group. Vernon, who splits her time between Boulder and Santa Barbara, said they started the group five years ago during a friend’s terminal illness.
“We wanted to remind each other of the community we had and the connection you make working side by side,” she said. “All the projects are about helping the environment or people. If we need to care about anything, we need to care about each other and the environment.”
All the other projects the group tackled previously were in Santa Barbara, with Boulder residents traveling to volunteer alongside friends there. Sunday’s work was the first time they helped Boulder nonprofit organizations.
“It’s satisfying to do this locally and help our local organizations flourish,” said volunteer Chris Velds.
At Growing Gardens, site director Lauren Kelso said the main priorities for the Sunday work were rehabbing the pollinator garden and children’s garden, as well as end-of-season field clean up in the vegetable gardens. Much of the work involved pulling masses of weeds from the garden beds.
She said the garden wasn’t able to bring in many volunteers during 2020 because of the pandemic, but has been slowly adding back both volunteers and programs this summer. Growing Gardens is a nonprofit organization that provides sustainable agriculture, education and food donations to more than 136,000 Boulder County residents.
“A community farm like this, we really need volunteers to pull it off,” Kelso said.
Volunteers in the pollinated garden cleared tall sunflowers overtaking the path, pulled weeds and removed seedpods from prolific plants the gardeners didn’t want to reseed.
“Mary Ellen always comes up with great projects,” said Theresa Beck, a local beekeeper and organic master gardener who helped other volunteers distinguish good plants from the weeds. “People just need to get out and do things.”
Over in the strawberry patch, the weeds were so thick the strawberries were close to buried. Wes Vaughn, Boulder farm coordinator at Growing Gardens, told the volunteers that the small yield from the strawberry plants made them less of a priority during the busy summer CSA season. But with the weeds cleared, those late season strawberries should make it to the farmstand this week, he said.
Many of Sunday’s volunteers traveled in previous years to help with the Santa Barbara projects, saying Vernon’s enthusiasm drew them to the group’s volunteer efforts.
“Spend time with friends, do something good, be outside — tell me a better way to spend a Sunday,” said volunteer TJ Heyman.
Kelly Gorder said she volunteers to support the project’s mission of “making space in your week and your life to connect.” She added that the gardening work was peaceful and a good way to meet new people.
“You’re in it together,” she said. “Especially right now, it’s hard to remember there’s a big world out there. You can make a difference, even just one weed at a time.”