Marsha Bard is the greenhouse manager at Ashe, and the site gardener at Green. Marsha grew up in central Maine, and came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild with Americorps in St. Bernard Parish. She studied horticulture at Delgado Community College, and was first connected to ESYNOLA through a network garden internship six years ago. Over the course of her lifetime, in a variety of organizations including ESYNOLA, Marsha has logged more than 4,000 hours of service.
What part of ESYNOLA’s programming or mission or values speaks to you the most?
My biggest concern in a world full of worries is food sustainability: people appreciating where food comes from, how it’s grown, the worth of food. I think a lot of people look at food and don’t have a full concept of how much work goes into it, how it affects the environment, and how it affects their bodies. So I like that Edible Schoolyard makes food knowledge a part of the curriculum. Introducing kids to foods like kale and how to prepare it and going to farmers’ market, this changes the Ag industry from the ground up, and is really important.
Describe one of your favorite moments on the job.
On one of my first days volunteering at Ashe and I was weeding the kale beds where the greenhouse is now. A second grader came up to me, demanding to know what I was doing to her beloved kale. “Oh I’m helping it, I’m weeding it,” I said. She was like, “don’t hurt my kale.” When she walked off I was like, What is happening here? I can’t believe this kid knows what kale is and that she cares so much about it. It was mind-blowing.
How would you describe your job to a Pre-K student?
I help plants grow, and I do the hard work in the dirt and soil so that you can plant your seeds and grow flowers. I’m here to help the garden look good.
What is your favorite thing that we grow?
I love all the flowers. My favorite thing, hm… I love lobelia, the tiny little flowers. I love seeing the poppies grow. Harvesting papaya.
If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what it would be?
Eggs. I eat a lot of quiches, egg sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs. Basically, I eat a dozen eggs every five days. They have all your nutrients, good cholesterol, super cheap, easy to cook, easy to raise. Perfect food.
If you weren’t a site gardener and you could be magically qualified and trained to be anything else, what would you be?
I’d love to do something that makes a huge change in how we produce and distribute food in the world. Lately I’ve been fantasizing about being a landscape architect and designing huge public parks.
What would people never guess that you do in your role?
I think there are a lot of things about gardening that people don’t realize, like collecting seeds, saving seeds, doing cuttings of plants, entertaining the volunteer groups like a diva. I’m like Cher out there, people are so entertained.
If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?
I would come back as one of my house cats. So spoiled. Eating all the time and napping all the time.
In the movie about your life, the first time you come on screen in slow motion, what song is playing?
Odetta. She has a song “Hit or Miss.” It’s only three verses, no chorus, no bridge. Just her singing about how she can’t be anybody else except herself, hit or miss.
If you could learn to do anything, what would you learn?
I’ve been practicing hula hooping. I’d like to make nice soaps. I’d love to make a really good loaf of bread. I started making my own face scrubs and bath soaks. Getting more into herbal stuff. I would like to be a well-rounded individual.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to volunteer or work in the garden for Edible Schoolyard?
To make my volunteers feel comfortable, I like to tell them that it is an educational garden, and mistakes are allowed. That’s how you learn to do anything. In gardening, you win some and lose some, and you learn from your mistakes. I encourage people to volunteer whenever, wherever, anytime, because that’s how you learn different skills with different people and without the added threat of being fired. As a volunteer in Americorps I used a chainsaw for the first time. I used air compressors and nail guns and climbed up scaffolding and put siding on a three-story house, all this stuff I never saw myself doing when I was younger. When you volunteer you’re thrown into it. Whenever we have big groups of volunteers, especially younger kids, I try to tell them to volunteer as much as you can.
How has your perspective of the needs for or benefits of our work changed in your last six years with us?
I remember there was a girl who came through at LHA, who was out there working in the garden. She was a former student, now in high school. She was talking about majoring in agriculture because of the program. I think at first I didn’t realize how many people our program affects, not just current students, but former students and volunteers and other teachers. Teachers are in the garden all the time. I have an intern right now who used to work with me ten hours a week, Renata, at Green. She brought her boyfriend on, Mark. He came back the following semester, brought 6 other students with them. I like to see how the greater community builds around this program and benefits from it. It’s not just the students.
What is a food or plant that brings you back to a happy memory about Edible Schoolyard?
Almost every plant or food gives me a memory of Edible Schoolyard now. Eating okra reminds me of growing it. Bananas remind me of how bad banana trees smell when you cut them down. We compost so much food, so you get to see a lot there. But I’d probably say Thai Hibiscus. We collect seeds every year. And I use them to grow plants for the Plant Pull at Edible Evening. Last year I grew over 200 of them. Every site has a bunch of Thai Hibiscus, and the kids love it.
What is your happy place in New Orleans?
I love my home. I love that I can bike everywhere. When I come to Arthur Ashe I bike through City Park to get there, and again to get back home. It’s glorious. But I think my happy place is definitely Green [Charter School]. If I ever move away and think back on New Orleans, I’ll think of the Green garden. Many happy hours out there, many different experiences with people, lots of triumphs and healing.
What’s the funniest thing a kid has said to you?
A student told me once that people are going to think I’m weird because I’m so dirty. I told him, “Oh they do already, so I might as well do what I want.” It’s a good lesson for life.
How has the work changed you?
I think it’s given me a lot of confidence to go out into this field and do something of my own with it. A great deal of confidence in my gardening skills, techniques I could have only learned here. To be among plants all the time, watch their cycles, know how to prune and help them bloom. To be so up close and personal with plants every day, that has changed me a lot.