For 94-year-old Louise Luce, gardening has kept her alive and rooted in her community.
The Issaquah resident was born in Chicago and later ended up in rural Indiana with her family. Luce remembers growing up during The Great Depression, in the era of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Along with her family, Luce lived in a house on a county road west of Hobart, Ind.
Recollecting memories, Luce said nobody had work and nobody was working. Despite the circumstances, she said her family had a garden in their backyard where they grew foods such as tomatoes, potatoes, and beets. That garden supported Luce and her family.
“I remember I had to pick potato bugs and tomato worms,” Luce said. “We didn’t have meat for a month. I remember we ate beets and carrots [that month]. I could walk home for lunch and we always had food — we always had something [to eat].”
Vividly, Luce remembers her first-grade classmates sitting in their individual desks during lunch time and they had nothing to eat — there was no food at their home for them to bring to school.
“I will never forget that. I can still see that,” Luce said.
Gardening has been constant throughout Luce’s life, all the way to age 94.
In 1984, Luce joined the Washington State University (WSU) Extension Master Gardener Program in King County, which is supported by the nonprofit master Gardener Foundation in King County. The program provides research-based education on urban horticulture to Washington State residents, according to the group’s website. Since starting in 1973, the King County Master Gardener program has been adopted in all 50 states.
As a Master Gardner, Luce was trained to be para-professional and volunteered to work in her community as a horticulture adviser and as a resource for other home gardeners. Through the program, Luce and other volunteers provide research-based information and education, tailored to each individual’s needs. Their resources come from the state land grant university and the United States Department of Agriculture.
In Issaquah, the Master Gardener volunteers set up informational booths (known as clinics) every week during the summer at the farmers market at the Pickering Barn, as well as at the Squak Mt. Greenhouses and Nursery. Master gardeners also engage in continuing education each year. The Issaquah foundation has about 30 members that annually donate over 25 hours of their time to volunteer at the clinics.
“It’s a great community builder,” Issaquah Clinic co-leader Sarah Bergdahl said of the program. “We really believe gardening and plants are very important for the planet.”
According to the King County Master Gardener Program, more than 600 Master Gardeners volunteered more than 40,000 hours in 2017.
And even at the age of 94, Luce still volunteers to complete her hours as a Master Gardener.
The King County Master Gardeners program is one of the largest in the world, and it holds passionate gardeners who serve their communities as community leaders, planners, stewards, fundraisers, philanthropists, and gardeners.
For Luce, the community she’s found in the Master Gardeners program has kept her alive.
“It opens up a whole new world of spin-offs into all kinds of other things,” Luce said of the program. “It keeps me alive. The sociability of this group and having something to think about that’s interesting instead of all the ugliness that goes on.”
Luce added she wouldn’t have it otherwise because she wouldn’t know what she would have. Gardening has been deeply rooted in Luce’s life. It’s supported her when there was nothing to eat and it has provided her a community that has kept her going for 35 years.