New Central Peninsula Gardening Club President Renae Wall stands beside the field where she and her husband have planted buckwheat as winter ground cover. Wall is uncertain what she'll plant in the spring.

New Central Peninsula Gardening Club President Renae Wall stands beside the field where she and her husband have planted buckwheat as winter ground cover. Wall is uncertain what she'll plant in the spring.

Gardening club seeing big changes

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, February 13, 2016 8:51pm
  • News

Eleven committees were formed to fill the well-worn gloves of long-time Central Peninsula Garden Club President Marion Nelson, who served her last duty Tuesday.

Under the watch of newly elected president Renae Wall, volunteers will ensure the summer tours, May Saturday seminars, newsletter and Sea Ag annual fundraiser will continue, among the many other programs club members have established since forming in 2007. Nelson will remain on the periphery to help when a hand is needed, but believes the members that have stepped in are “more than capable” of carrying out her old responsibilities.

“I think it will be stronger than ever to have more people do more things than me having to do too much,” Nelson said. “They will bring their ideas to the various communities, and it will be great.”

The University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service Kenai Peninsula District office open and a small master gardeners group preceded the gardening club as hubs for local growers, Nelson said. She founded the non-profit nine years ago, after leaving her job at The Milepost, having accurately identified an un-met need in the Kenai Peninsula community.

“It started off with a bang,” Nelson said. “We had 100 people at the very first meeting.”

The club started fundraising in the first year. Nelson said money has always been conservatively managed, and she wouldn’t dip into savings at the start before the bank account high enough that one event wouldn’t wipe them out.

Now, the spring Sea Ag Kelp Fundraiser and the Spring Plant Sale are held annually to bring in the money that makes farm tours and workshops possible, Nelson said.

The Kenai Peninsula is becoming one of the fastest developing areas for agriculture in the state, Nelson said. Volunteers have tailored its offerings to keep up with the evolving industry, she said.

The club helps sponsor agriculture-related events and programs put on by other local organizations, such as the Harvest Moon Local Foods Week, Alaska Farm to School Program, and the 4-H Youth Summer Garden Project among others.

“Alaska’s food security is just a pittance,” Nelson said.

The garden club is a way to get people excited about sustainable production and what is simply an enjoyable, fulfilling pastime, she said.

Which is exactly how the new president was hooked in 2009.

She and her husband started attending workshops and seminars to figure out what to do with their land.

They eventually settled on a commercial rhubarb operation, and in the meantime Wall found herself occupying a seat on the board. She said following Nelson is going to be quite the task.

“There is a lot of learning for all of us to do because we haven’t been doing these things,” Wall said. “There may be some things that might fall thorough the cracks for awhile.”

Immediately, she said she wants to guide the Board of Directors through the transition of divvying up Nelson’s previous chores.

“Everyone has embraced this new approach,” Wall said. “Everyone is excited to try new things and use their own creativity. I am kind of excited to see what ideas they come up with and the energy they bring to making those happen.”

Neither Nelson nor Wall is worried about the future of the club.

Interest has consistently grown throughout the years, and there are more niches cropping up such as the “advent of high tunnels” and the local farmers markets that the club does its best to support, Nelson said.

For the time being she will be putting energy into her encaustic artwork, and work a little with the Kenai Art Guild. She will also be looking at other potential projects to sink her hands into.

“I don’t know that I will get so involved with any other group as I did with the club,” Nelson said. “It just was too much. It was like a part time job at least.”

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

Gardening club seeing big changes
Gardening club seeing big changes

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