Spring Training Spark

Last spring, about a year into the pandemic, local business owner and artist/maker Eric Woods was – like so many of us – feeling confined and starved for community. He was ready to learn something new while spending time outside, in the fresh air. Even better if that something offered growth-oriented human connection in a Covid-safe context.

Enter the first ever 5-week EarthDance Spring Training for Gardeners, an online and in-person, pre-season training course!

“Spring Training lit a spark for me,” Eric said. “And it spread to my family. It has changed the way my wife and I cook at home. My daughter wants to use her own money to buy cacti, and my son wants to grow broccoli this year!”

Eric, who is the founder, owner, and lead designer at beloved Cherokee Street letterpress print shop The Firecracker Press, has experimented with gardening many times over the years. While he has enjoyed getting his hands in the soil, he’s been wanting to dig in more deeply for a long time. He was interested in EarthDance’s longer Farm and Garden Apprenticeship, but couldn’t take the time away from his business. Spring Training came along at the right time, and in the right ways. “You don’t know how great the experience was,” he said.

The combination of online classes and on-farm tutorials worked well for his life. Online, he could learn from home, on his own time. The in-person sessions gave him the opportunity to experience hands-on learning on a larger scale while investing just the right amount of time and resources. “I could get my feet wet at the farm, and didn’t necessarily have to close up shop here.”

Eric Woods finds his work at The Firecracker Press and in the garden to be similarly gratifying. Photo courtesy of Eric Woods

Eric draws parallels between gardening and his design and printing work at The Firecracker Press. “Anybody that makes anything can find a lot of similarities in growing things,” he said. “It’s all a big test to find out what you’re made of.” With growing things, as with making, there is the need for persistent presence with and tending to a work-in-progress. “If you plant something, it’s not like pushing a button, but if you hang out with it long enough…that delayed gratification, for me, feels really rewarding.”

He also tapped into a growing community of people with shared interests, finding connections online and at the farm. He found the coaches and the other participants to be kind and welcoming, making an experience that might have felt daunting – re-entering a crowd, one year into the solitude of early pandemic life – feel easy and fun. And he has stayed connected with the EarthDance farmily, continuing to volunteer at the farm throughout the growing season.

And, Eric found there were valuable takeaways for his garden and family.

Outfitted with new knowledge and experience gained in the 2021 course, he and his family cultivated more home garden goodness last year than in years past. They grew and ate more vegetables, enjoying harvests of homegrown foods like beans, tomatoes, and blackberries. In particular, the techniques he learned for organic pest control contributed to the increased bounty.

There were unexpected benefits at home, too. Having spent more time and effort engaged in the process of growing food – both at home and at the farm – Eric and his family became more deliberate about using produce before it went bad. And their approach to cooking changed. “My wife and I make more meals together as a way to spend time with each other,” he said. “It’s also influenced how we think about our role, as a couple, in the wider natural landscape!” His daughter started a new fairy garden, using her own money to buy succulents and cacti. And when he asked his two children, ages 10 & 13, what they might like to grow this year, they knew without hesitation – including his son’s surprise broccoli request!

While the Spring Training program helped demystify some aspects of food growing for Eric, he is reminded that there is inherent mystery and many challenges that will pop up along the way. Last year, for example, he tried hard to grow pumpkins. “It was a disaster,” he said. One piece of his pumpkin patch flooded. In the other, there were pest and pollination issues. “But, I learned a lot, including that, sometimes, pumpkins will thrive most easily as volunteers, growing out of the compost pile!”

Thanks to encouragement and advice from EarthDance Spring Training Head Coach, Farm Manager and Educator Jena Hood, Eric planted garlic in his garden, where it has been overwintering since October. Photo by Jess Garrett

Still, Eric is excited to bring learnings from Spring Training and the 2021 growing season to his garden in 2022.  “I’ve already ordered seeds,” he said. He’s looking forward to enjoying garlic this year (in the ground since October, which he directly credits to the influence of Spring Training Head Coach, EarthDance Farm Manager and Educator Jena Hood). He’s also planning to grow ground cherries, beans, kale, collards, chard, and a few root crops that will be new for him. He plans to put his Spring Training gains to good use in the garden again this year.

Register here for Spring Training 2022, and grow your own gardening knowledge, experience, and community connection, as well as delicious, fresh produce!