Rachel Ziesk has been the instructor of Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven (NHS) Gardening Classes for 10 years. She considers gardening, and showing people how, as her passion rather than a job.
“It goes way back to when I was in North Carolina.” Rachel recalled how she started gardening, “I rented a house, and I just wanted some flowers. I pulled up some grass and put down sunflower seeds, and I was amazed that they actually grew.”
After Rachel moved up to New Haven, she got into growing food as well. As Rachel got more interested in gardening, she thought that it would be nice if she could also make a living with her gardening skills. That is when she decided to take the Extension Master Gardener Program at the University of Connecticut (UConn).
Gaining the title of the “Advanced Certified Master Gardener” was not easy. “First, you take the regular Master Gardener courses, which are very intensive, and that goes for about 8 months. Then, there are several tests you need to pass to become a Certified Master Gardener. To get your advanced certification, there are a bunch of other classes and things you have to complete.” Rachel said.
“A lot of people just take it to get more knowledge, but I was specifically looking to have a different career for myself.” Rachel further explained, “So, I only do organic gardening. I garden for clients doing both vegetable gardens and ornamental flower gardens.”
After gaining the certificate, Rachel worked at the New Haven Land Trust (now known as Gather New Haven). She met Kathy Fay, NHS Director of Community Sustainability. “I talked to Kathy about doing an intensive six-week gardening class, and I ‘ve been doing it for 10 years now.” Rachel said.
Rachel enjoys each class she teaches: “I love imparting this knowledge to people who are also interested. I want to show them that gardening isn’t rocket science. But the more you know, the better you’ll do.” She also believes that organic gardening is the best way to garden because it helps protect the ecosystem.
With many years of teaching experience, Rachel has “ready to go” classes, but she also looks for new information and studies to enrich her syllabus. It took her some time to adapt to online teaching though. “Last year, I ended up pointing to the screen and thinking ‘No, they can’t see you,’” she mused.
Rachel was pleased to see that people who took her class were very open to growing at least some of their own food. It’s important for people in the neighborhood to understand how to grow things. “Especially with the NHS offering people a chance to own their own home so people can have their own yards to do gardening,” she said.