Board Member Interview with Elsie Kathler

As many of our members will already know, Elsie Kathler was MMGA Education Standards Director from 2016 – 2018. At the AGM in April 2021 Elsie joined the MMGA board again when she was elected into the newly created Vice-Chair position.

MMGA Newsletter (NL) – How long have you been gardening?

Elsie Kathler (EK) – I have been gardening most of my life. As a child, I enjoyed planting and tending the vegetable, fruit and ornamental gardens on our farm together with my parents and siblings. Finding and gathering wild edibles such as fruits and mushrooms in the forest was always an adventure for our family. As a teenager, I helped my uncle, a Horticultural Research Scientist, with his field trials at the Morden Research Station. My passion for gardening continues to grow each day.

NL – What types of gardens do you have? Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with the Mennonite Heritage Village gardens?

EK – I have the privilege of caring for vegetable, fruit and ornamental gardens.
At the Mennonite Heritage Village I wear several hats. The first hat is that I serve as the Steinbach and Area Garden Club Coordinator of the Club’s Community Service Project tending the gardens at the Mennonite Heritage Village. In that role I coordinate the work of some 50 volunteers who tend the gardens during the spring, summer and fall. In essence, I serve as the volunteer head gardener. The other hat I wear is serving as an interpreter of the importance of sustainable gardening to the survival of early pioneers for the thousands of visitors that come to the Museum. The third hat is that of a teacher. I have been asked to give lessons on how to plant and care for gardens, how compost, how to preserve the harvest and how to gather seeds.

NL – What gives you the most pleasure in your gardens?

EK – There are so many pleasures… be it the sound of the wind wafting through the leaves, the sparkle of dew on the leaves in the early morning light, the wonder of watching the petals of a rosebud unfurling to reveal a stunning rose, the feel of soil on my bare hands and feet, watching birds splashing in the birdbath and so on …each holds moments that feed my soul.

NL – Why and when did you decide to become a Master Gardener?

EK – After I retired, I had the time to be able to satisfy my hunger to learn more of the science behind gardening and to use my gifts as a gardener to enhance my community as a volunteer. Becoming a Master Gardener helped me satisfy this hunger and gave me the opportunity to become a part of the fellowship of other Master Gardeners.

NL – Was the fact that you lived in Steinbach a problem to take the Master Gardener courses?

EK – It was a challenge not only because of the distance to travel and the added time for the journey to and from classes, but also due to the hazards of winter driving conditions on the highways. I dearly would have liked to have courses on line during the winter months when I was taking the courses.

NL – Is there something you would like to see the MMGA improve/change for its rural members?

EK – COVID has already done some this for us…. Putting courses, presentations, meetings on line has been a real bonus for those of us who may not be able to come to in person meetings and presentations. I would also like to see the MMGA sponsor a travelling speaker series that would come to make presentations in the rural regions of our province.

NL – What do you see as the strengths of the MMGA?

EK – Being in the position to influence the sustainable care of our environment by providing opportunities for learning, pursuing partnerships with likeminded people and organizations and advocating for sustainable gardening practices.

NL – Is there something in particular you would like the MMGA focus on in the future?

EK – Creating an annual education day that would have sustainable gardening as its corner stone.

NL – You have been a board member from 2016 – 2018 and joined the board again in 2021. What motivates you to serve on the MMGA board?

EK – I see the potential of the MMGA to make a real difference to improving the quality of our environment by advocating for quality training and mentoring of emerging Master Gardeners, finding and using opportunities to promote healthy gardening practices, and creating a strong network of Master Gardener change agents thorough out our province.