Chrys Gardener: With Seed to Supper from the Start

By Camila Sarmiento

planting box with lettuce, trowel and watering can

Chrys Gardener runs the Seed to Supper program for Tompkins County. She recognized her love for gardening after helping grow vegetables for Little Tree Orchard, realizing that gardening was a great way to save money and get some exercise. After completing her horticulture degree and working as a landscaper, Chrys recognized that horticulture could be a fulfilling career. After a few years, she started working for CCE of Tompkins County in community horticulture. Starting with a simple gardening workshop composed of soil, seeds, and buckets, she realized it wasn't enough and that people needed additional gardening education. She learned of Oregon Food Bank’s Seed to Supper (S2S), a program that focuses on teaching low-income families how to deliver healthy, nutritional and inexpensive food through gardening.  After adapting the material to New York State, CCE held the first NYS S2S event in the spring of 2015 with 10 people. Since then she has trained numerous garden educators in 10 counties who, in turn, spread the lessons to their community members.  Chrys says, “When I told my mom about horticulture she said why don’t you get a degree in something you can get a job in.” Instead, Chrys followed her passion for gardening and found her dream career where she can make an important impact on her community. 

Being with S2S since its introduction into NYS, Chrys has a unique perspective on watching the program grow. Important influences on the S2S development include senior residents in the community, apartment complexes, libraries, and the Park Foundation, their source of funding. She also works closely with CCE’s Master Gardener and nutrition programs, to strengthen the S2S community with individuals passionate about gardening and nutrition.

While the program has been successful in many instances, it has also been a learning experience. New York has a more diverse demographic make-up than Oregon, and so Chrys realized that it was necessary to address diverse backgrounds by including international recipes and growing instructions in the S2S book. Furthermore, she realized the importance of connecting participants with financial resources because many experience a cost barrier to gardening.

As S2S has developed, the volunteer training approach has also advanced. Initially focusing on gardening, Chrys realized that everyone can memorize the slides but it's the skills of facilitating that are more important.  While Chrys knows the importance of technical gardening skills, the curriculum and training are more about the power of gardening as a community development goal. Now volunteers spend a month reviewing material before a day of hands-on training. A good portion of training is designed to address insensitive comments that might arise. “We aren’t here to single anyone out or put them into groups of income and demographics, but instead to strengthen communities and learn how to garden together,” Chrys says.

S2S facilitators work in small groups of two to four and grow as a team because of varying skillsets in gardening and facilitation. Chrys emphasizes that S2S doesn’t accept volunteers solely based on their gardening expertise. Most volunteers see the benefits of community connections and helping people eat better and be more active. Chrys has witnessed participants who have no experience in gardening become leaders of community gardens, and then facilitators for S2S. She even mentions a participant who became a facilitator and then was hired by CCE.

Chrys’ admits her greatest joy in Seed to Supper is reading a comment about someone who had no experience and never thought they could grow a garden because it was too hard and expensive, but succeeded and have come back the following year. The growth and relationships between participants and volunteers is truly inspiring and shows the lasting success of the program.

Camila Sarmiento is an Environmental and Sustainability Science senior, undergraduate, in the College of Agriculture and Life Science

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 provided by Chrys Gardener. Chrys, third from right, cuts ribbon at at the Esty St. food pantry garden, Ithaca, NY