Marsha Shonk is an AmeriCorps VISTA for the town of Whitesville. She’s been dubbed the “Seed Lady,” the “Garden Lady” and even the “Seed Queen,” thanks to the remarkable success of her new seed donation program. Here, Marsha tells us how she did it.
When I was a child I promised myself that I would never grow a garden as an adult. I dreaded working in our family garden every summer. It was hard work and I always ended up knee deep in the cucumber patch.
But my love for fried green tomatoes is what eventually led me to start growing tomatoes in large planters. As I grew older I realized that using planters was the perfect way to garden, and was a lot less work on my hands, back and legs!
For most of my adult life I have lived in areas with populations of more than a million. I didn’t see much evidence of a sense of community, but life was full of conveniences.
Ten years ago I came to Beckley from southern Arizona because of my Grandma’s failing health. It was quite a transition. In 2014, I moved to Rock Creek in Raleigh County. I’d always been a “city girl.” Moving to the country was never on my bucket list of things to do!
Living an hour away from Beckley made it impossible to keep my job there. Even though I now resided on “Green Acres,” we were too broke to really invest in what it takes to plant a garden. We bought and planted several strawberry and tomato plants on our property. An elderly couple from our church offered us half of their garden space so we could plant a garden. They also gave us corn and bean seed as well as giving us about 10 tomato plants.
When I began working as an AmeriCorps VISTA for The Hub and the town of Whitesville, I realized that there were many people going through what I went through last year. I wanted to help those people become more independent by growing their own food and saving their seeds.
The seed project started out small. But as the donations grew, so did my perspective for the project.
I’ve contacted 74 seed companies and have received a total of $13,720.80 in seed donations from 10 different seed companies.
I have donated to two area USDA food distribution programs, the Girl Scouts, the Whitesville coal miner’s job fair, and the clean up day in Whitesville, by providing vegetable seeds to the community as well as flower seeds for the 12 large planters throughout downtown.
I’ve donated two acres worth of seed to James McCormick with the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture program, one acre of seed to a troubled youth program, one acre of seeds to Workforce WV’s Dislocated Worker Unit which will go to Manna Meal in Charleston, and one acre of seed each to two soup kitchens in the area.
There are still many seeds to donate, and many to plant! I am planning to have a herb clinic in the near future with the herbs that were received through the seed donations.
Last year I had no canning jars, so I froze everything. I have jars this year but still don’t know how to can food. One of my next steps is to have a canning class. I have emailed five canning jar companies asking for jar donations!
Inspired? Like to know more about being a VISTA? Contact The Hub’s Louise Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org