Seed to Supper educator highlights the importance of collaboration

By Christian Kanlian and Charlie Freedman

fresh tomatoes and a prepared tomato and cheese dish

Laurie VanNostrand, an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Wayne County, is quick to point out the benefits of face-to-face interaction. She says there’s more knowledge exchanged in an in-person conversation than there could ever be online, but she’s honest about the direction the trend seems to be headed. Even her daughter is inclined to turn to the internet before her Master Gardener mother. When her daughter followed an online recipe to boil her backyard-grown tomatoes, Laurie was there in-person to help with her next batch. As a Seed to Supper educator, Laurie has helped hundreds of Wayne County residents find reliable information on growing, preparing, and preserving food.

The most impactful aspect of Laurie’s Seed to Supper work is the human element, teaching and collaborating. Human interaction is what drew her from corporate work to CCE, and it’s what inspires her to keep working for a healthier community every day. She advises anyone looking to get into this type of work to approach each situation through the eyes of those being educated rather than relying on personal experiences. When working with gardeners who are growing on a budget, language and gestures can really make a difference. For example, building a trellis for climbing crops is approached very differently based on varying economic realities. A simple guide might say “buy a few 2 by 2s and nail them together,” but on a limited budget, the cost of lumber and supplies might unnecessarily exclude potential gardeners. That’s where Seed to Supper shines, Laurie says. By providing a detailed, yet approachable, guide to all things gardening on a limited budget, the program takes out the prohibitive cost barrier that prevents some people from growing and preparing their own food.

As a rural county, Wayne County faces challenges in collecting and distributing reliable information while maintaining the intimate, local feel of CCE services. Laurie has found that new and experienced gardeners alike are more willing to try a new practice if they see, and can discuss it with, a neighbor who has already adopted the practice. That’s why she designates an individual Master Gardener to work with each of their partner gardens. Master Gardener volunteers are able to develop meaningful relationships as they provide guidance on inexpensive ways to find seeds and fertilizers, and troubleshoot tips. Wayne County educators also collaborate across programs, utilizing the wide-ranging expertise available to best serve their clients. For example, Master Gardeners often teach about growing and maintaining plants and while the nutrition team covers topics related to a balanced diet and the benefits of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Through efforts like this, Seed to Supper makes the most of human connections, inviting everyone to take a more active role in determining where their food comes from.

Christian Kanlian is a junior studying Plant Science and Community Food Systems at Cornell.

This story is part of a series of S2S educator profiles that were developed as an assignment in PLHRT 4270: Seed to Supper, a two-semester course sequence that offers an opportunity for students to learn facilitation skills and to engage intensively with Cornell Cooperative Extension educators. Building communities and relationships is the core of the NYS Seed to Supper (S2S) program. The beginning gardening experience gives novice gardeners the tools they need to connect with others in the community, grow in confidence, and successfully grow a portion of their own food on a limited budget.

Additional Seed to Supper educator profiles: 

Photo by Frank DiMeo