Michelle Gambon wears a lot of hats . . . She’s a mom, a volunteer, a master gardener, an advocate for food justice, an environmental consultant and owner of Go Grow Enviro, and founder of Community Sprouts.
I met her, just as the school year was wrapping up last spring, at the Marietta Middle School garden, where she and Community Sprouts helpers volunteer regularly.
Community Sprouts is a collective of educators, parents, schools, community helpers, and sponsors that are focused and organized by Michelle to teach and nourish children.
Michelle teaches the students about composting, sustainability, growing, and our environment. She coordinates programs with educators and school curriculum to engage students in composting food and brown waste from school cafeterias while growing and experiencing fresh, healthy, and wholesome food from beautiful school gardens. The students call her “the compost lady” and she is a self proclaimed, “Compost Queen.”
Hands-on Learning in the Garden
While we were working on this video, several teachers and students passed through the garden at Marietta Middle School. I overheard discussions among them about “what lettuce tastes like” and questions like, “what were their favorite vegetables.” One teacher led a guided conversation in the garden about weather and environmental impacts, risks to the harvest, and the potential for economic challenges for farmers. Michelle told me how math and science are integrated into the garden lessons as well.
Marietta Middle School garden.
She teaches students that composting is good for the environment and for the soil. Although they work together to reduce waste from the schools and to create compost, they can’t produce enough organic mater to support all of the school gardens.
Michelle learned about Soil³ from other master gardeners and was impressed when she saw the rich compost that she describes as “black gold.” Once she gave Soil³ a try she saw a significant increase in productivity. She wanted more of it and that’s when she had the idea to sell Soil³ Mini Cubes as a fundraiser to help offset expenses for Community Sprouts programs and school gardens.
Tidying and tending the garden and greenhouse at Marietta Sixth Grade Academy.
Soil³ Mini Cubes Are Just Right for the Community Sprouts Fundraiser
Michelle chose the Soil³ Mini Cubes for the Community Sprouts fundraiser because they are mobile, easy to distribute and move from garden to garden, and they’re also easy for volunteers and homeowners to handle as well. The Community Sprouts Soil³ fundraiser begins on Saint Patrick's Day and runs through April Fools Day each spring.
Michelle chose Soil³ Mini Cubes for the Community Sprouts fundraiser.
In the time since Michelle did her spring fundraiser using the yellow Mini Cubes, Soil³ introduced Veggie Mix, in a green Mini Cube. Now, the compost Mini Cubes (the yellow ones) are for ornamental plants and Veggie Mix Minis (the green ones) are for containers and all vegetable gardens.
Veggie Mix is for containers, raised beds, and all vegetable gardens.
The Compost Queen
While she has many titles, I would also describe Michelle as a real go-getter, a ball of fire, and a determined and focused volunteer. Her passion for nurturing and feeding the students, both mentally and physically was evident from the moment that I met her.
Throughout our time at two schools that day, no matter what we were doing, her eyes were on the students. Not one passed without acknowledgement or encouragement (and sometimes a loving nudge of correction) from Michelle. While I was staging the video, putting her microphone on and adjusting equipment, she could barely sit still as she continued to spot things in the garden that needed her attention.
We drove from the middle school over to the garden at Marietta Sixth Grade Academy, also supported by Michelle and Community Sprouts volunteers. As I took photographs of the gardens and greenhouse, Michelle was on the move, pulling weeds, watering, and tidying up the garden space, while also juggling phone calls to speak with volunteers, coordinate donations, and communicate about tasks that needed to be done.
In addition to onsite work at school gardens, Michelle coordinates a “summer bridge” program to help feed students who rely on the school lunch program during the school year. During the COVID shutdown in 2020, Community Sprouts organized produce from multiple donation gardens and Michelle met families at food pick up sites to deliver fresh food from the back of her pickup truck.
Michelle and Community Sprouts volunteers at Marietta Sixth Grade Academy.
Soil³ Promotes Healthier Soil Which Leads to Healthier Harvests
Michelle tells the students and volunteers that Georgia red clay is so compact that it really needs the addition of compost and organic matter. She describes that Soil³ is a consistent, reliable, and sustainable product that she can count on to amend soil in the school gardens and at home in her own garden. She loves the fact that Soil³ is OMRI Listed and explains that amending with it makes soil healthier by increasing its biodiversity, which helps plants become more productive.
When the soil is more productive, Community Sprouts has more fresh produce to share and is able to reach and teach even more people about healthy nutritious food. Michelle is helping students and their families make the connection from soil to table, teaching that “Human health starts with the soil - when the soil is healthier, plants are healthier, the harvest is healthier, and those that consume it are healthier too.”
Okra, mustard greens, and zucchini, grown in a Community Sprouts school garden.
Photos and video by Laurie Wakefield, with additional photos by Michelle Gambon and Community Sprouts volunteers.
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