I met with Bob and Sharon Yocum recently on a beautiful, clear Southern California winter morning at the Crafton Hills College garden in Yucaipa, California. With the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains in the distance, it was a perfect way to spend a Saturday morning viewing the garden at the College that they have been instrumental in developing and helping to grow. I learned more about their mutual love of gardening and helping others, as well as their extensive knowledge of gardening. Bob is a 20-year Master Gardener. Sharon has extensive gardening knowledge also, and recently decided to “make it official” by becoming a Master Gardener trainee.
Like many Master Gardeners, Bob has a life-time love of growing things. He first learned about the benefits of having a vegetable garden from his grandmother and grandfather. Through working in his grandparent's garden, the necessity of growing one's own food became deeply ingrained in Bob. The family garden was not only a source of sustenance, but also of beauty that was shared with others. His grandmother had a flower garden and Bob shared the family's joy of gardening by taking flowers to his teachers.
When I met Bob, he told me, “when things are grown with love, they grow better.” I realized very quickly that those are words that Bob and Sharon live by. They have combined their mutual love of gardening and growing food with helping people from around the world. They have inspired others by teaching them about the benefits of sustainable gardening and feeding them nutritious food. Family vacations, free weekends and even Bob's birthday weekend were spent at Sommer Haven Ranch in Lancaster, California helping start a garden and teaching gardening classes. Their focus was to help the community learn about sustainable gardening practices, start their own gardens, and learn how to cook what they grew - a true Farm to Table experience. Gardening students from all over the world attended the classes to learn about sustainable gardening practices that they took back to their individual countries. The international attendees learned new gardening practices and techniques from Bob and Sharon. Bob is very quick to point out that he and Sharon also learned new gardening techniques from attendees who came from such places as Nigeria, the Philippines and Uganda. He is extremely generous in sharing his gardening knowledge with others so “they can be successful, come back and teach him new things”. Students had the opportunity to receive certificates after they completed the classes. One of the requirements to receive the certificate was for the student to start their own community garden, making the classes “the gift that keeps on giving”.
At Sommer Haven Ranch, gardeners always grew more than they needed, not just for themselves but to give away to others. They shared knowledge, resources and labor with one another. If a fellow gardener needed help, everyone pitched in to help with whatever was needed to ensure the success of the gardens and the community.
Master Gardeners reach people of varying levels of gardening experience and physical capabilities. Bob and Sharon learned about Loma Linda University Medical Center East Campus which provides physical medicine and rehabilitation, among other specialties at the facility. Bob and other Master Gardeners helped with the design and building of a 4x8 table at the facility, that could be raised or lowered via a pulley system making it wheelchair accessible. The table made the gardening workspace easily accessible, proving Bob's belief “that everyone has something to contribute.”
Talking with Professor Janine Ledoux, I learned about food insecurity, the concept of not knowing when or where your next meal is coming from. For Janine, Bob and Sharon food insecurity is not a concept, it is a reality in today's world that they have decided to do something about. As volunteers of the Blessing Center when it was open in Redlands, they collected and distributed food donated by local organizations, as well as from local gardens to be given away to those in need. When the Blessing Center closed, they became involved in collecting donated food to be shared at monthly community dinners at the Family Services Association of Redlands.
Bob and Sharon instilled a love of gardening and helping feed those in need in their 4 children. Their family has become involved with a Central California organization called Gleanings for the Hungry, working as part of a team that makes and ships dried fruit and soup mix. Tons of California cull fruit is thrown away annually. Gleanings for the Hungry takes fruit such as peaches that may have gone unused, then dries and ships it all over the world helping feed the poor and needy.
I came away from my time spent with Bob and Sharon humbled by their philosophy that if you have a meal with, or wash dishes with someone after a meal, you find out a lot about them – what kind of person they are, the essence of who they are. I may not have washed dishes with Bob and Sharon, but through the few hours I spent with them, I got to know them better, and am proud to be part of the Master Gardener community with them.
Bob and Sharon have seen a lot of evolution in the Master Gardener program over the 20 years that Bob has been a Master Gardener. It is apparent that they are very proud to have been part of the program for so many years. The friendships they have developed with fellow Master Gardeners are deeply personal and important to them. They view their fellow Master Gardeners as family. As Bob told me, “Master Gardeners are there when you need them.”
Photographer: Sharon Yocum
Author: Debbie LeDoux, Master Gardener trainee.