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Madision, Wisc: Profile on CAC's Joe Mathers

  • Subject: [cg] Madision, Wisc: Profile on CAC's Joe Mathers
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2006 19:55:40 EST

Friends,

Here's a sweet piece on Joe Mathers, Coordinator of  Community Gardens for
the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin  (CAC). Some of you
probably know the guy from an ACGA convention, or if you're  local to Madison,
you've alread read this piece. As usual, here's the web link,
(_http://www.madisoncommons.org/article.php?storyid=150_
(http://www.madisoncommons.org/article.php?storyid=150)  )  and a cut and
paste of the text for
the attachment/link challenged.

Regards,
Adam Honigman
Hell's Kitchen, NYC

Community Gardener's Passion Grew Into  Career

Adam Edelman
Madison Commons Reporter



Joe Mathersb passion for gardening is evident in  nearly everything he says.
When asked what his favorite garden in Madison is, he  replied, bFor me that
is like the question bwhich one of your kids do you like  most?bb

Mathers, 58, is the Coordinator of Community Gardens for the  Community
Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin (CAC). He has run the
Madison-area
community gardening program for almost 16 years but has been  involved with
gardening his entire life. He loved gardening even as a child and  gardened in
different communities throughout the United States when he was  younger.

His efforts have resulted in the quickly growing and  enthusiastic gardening
communities in Madison. Community gardens exist across  Madison to serve
residents for a variety of purposes. Some gardeners grow  inexpensive food to
feed
their families, some enjoy raising organic produce, and  some just enjoy
working outside and bonding with the earth. Mathers enjoys  gardening for all
of
these reasons. But when he planted his own roots here in  the late 1980s, he
did
not realize such a stable and passionate career would  follow.

Originally from western Pennsylvania, Mathers traveled and worked  in
different gardening communities throughout Ohio, Arizona, and New Mexico
until 1989.
Mathers was looking for another change of scenery when he received a  call.

bA friend of mine told me this job was perfect for me and I applied  a few
times and came in second a few times, but within in a year after that I  got
the
job,b Mathers said. The job was the one he still holds now b running the
community garden scene of Madison.

Mathers had dedicated co-workers in  Madison right from the start, which
eased his transition into the job and  Wisconsin life in general. bMadison
is a
great community and Ibve always had  great people to work with,b he said.
bWeb
ve all faced the same challenges and  struggles b some of these things were
fairly uphill at the beginning for a  while, but webve all made it
together.b

One of the challenges Mathers  faced early was a land shortage. bWhen I was
brought on board, we were in the  process of losing land,b explained
Mathers, b
but I had experience in landscape  architecture and was able to use this
experience to get land back and start  building on that.b

Matherbs love for his work is highly valued by those  he works with. bJoe
knows everything there is to know about [gardening],b said  Janet Parker,
Leadership Developer of Community Gardens for CAC and Mathersb  colleague.
bHe
loves it to the core.b But Mathersb duties are not only limited  to
gardening. As
a coordinator, he is in charge of writing grants and budgets,  planning
programs, and supervising projects.

As the leader he is in  charge of the direction of the overall program. CAC
is an anti-poverty agency,  so the aim of the gardens has always been to
benefit people who needed the food,  Mathers explained. According to the CAC
web
site, 32 percent of the 400-plus  families which had garden plots in 2003 were
living below the federal poverty  line. Mathers brought in a broad-scale type
of
organization with the goal of  helping low-income people.bWith more people
involved in the overall process,b he  said, bthe solution is found by the
whole
community.b

When Mathersb came  to Madison in 1989, he brought with him the philosophy
he
has always held, that  people must be linked to their land. bIn a funny way
[gardening] is a connection  to the land that a lot of people donbt have
anymore in this country,b he said.  bAt one point, many people had
connections to
the land. Even small connections.b

Mathers' passion for gardening is rooted in bonding with the earth and  he
wants others to feel that sensation. bAfter food, what is the reason you
garden?
b he says he asks people. bThey say itbs personally healing, personally
connective. It has therapeutic powers.b

Other avid gardeners in Madison  share Mathersb enthusiasm. bItbs hugely
important to tie a community to its  soil,b Capitol View Heights resident
Eric
Gunderyon said. Mathers even has a  community garden in his own backyard.
bThe
grandparents and kids were in there  all the time,b he said. bItbs been
a part
of their lives.b

Mathersb  favorite part of his work is bseeing [the garden] work and
seeing
it come  together.b He is constantly surprised by the way people and land
come
together.  bIt doesnbt matter who or when - just that they can connect,
that
they can make  something happen and put more and more into it.b He loves to
see childrenbs  faces light up with joy when they see the first sproutlings
burst through the  dirt.

Many gardeners in Madison are immigrants from other countries. CAC  says 37
percent of community gardeners speak English as a second language or do  not
speak it at all. Mathers loves this because, to him, gardening then becomes  a
language. bPeople from all different backgrounds still can understand how to
do the same things as us b plant and grow,b he said. bThose are big
moments
for  me personally.b

While Mathers has made enormous progress with the Madison  community gardens,
he has a lot more in store for the city and its gardeners. He  wants to get
more young people involved and he wants to continue to spread the  magic of
b
watching something grow right in front of you.b

While Mathers  recognizes how far Madison has come, he still likes to compare
it to a European  culture that emphasizes community gardening. bWe donbt
do
much as a society with  [community gardening],b he said. bAmericans have a
long history of community  gardens, but in Europe itbs part of the
lifestyle.b
He pointed out that Berlin  has over 80,000 families involved with community
gardens. bMost European cities  recognize that families want to go in [to
the
garden], have that stability, that  continuity, and the governments put money
into each town for the gardens.  Families are satisfied with being outdoors
and
bringing something home to  eat.b

While Mathersb wouldnbt let on to his favorite garden in Madison,  he did
say that he particularly enjoys going to the Quann Community Garden in
Capitol
View Heights. bItbs helped move forward the image of what a community
garden
can be,b he said. And like Quann, Mathers has continued to raise the bar
for
what a community garden coordinator can be.


For more information:
_CAC Community Gardens  Webpage_ (http://www.cacscw.org/gardens/index.htm)
_Harvesting the  City: Community Gardening in Greater Madison_
(http://www.cityfarmer.org/madison.html)
_Community and  children's gardening groups_
(http://www.cias.wisc.edu/foodshed/fooddir/commgrdn.htm)


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