The garden is her classroom now

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Maria Blon was a professor for over 20 years, teaching every math class under the sun—and a little yoga. After leaving her post at SUNY Orange, she and her daughter took a life-changing trip to Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, and helped establish a school, Heart in Haiti. Now all of Blon’s work revolves around her twin passions: gardening and teaching. To raise funds for the school, she offers a flower subscription service, delivering fresh bouquets from her home garden to local families and businesses. “My husband has a good job teaching, and while I like the idea of starting businesses, what do we really need the money for?” Heart in Haiti serves 140 students, pre-school through 8th grade, and adds a new grade level each year. Meanwhile, Blon has found a kindred spirit who’s also a fan of weeding in the rain.

By Molly Colgan

UP-DOG: 6 o’clock, I put the dogs out. Lacey is a Pomeranian Chihuahua mix, and Coco is a Yorkie. We rescued them both from Pets Alive. They come out here and do their little morning dance.

DOWN-DOG: Then it’s my time for a little bit of yoga and meditation. Depending on the weather, it’s nice to do it outside if there aren’t mosquitoes biting me.

THE PLOT THICKENS: A lot of times I’ll come out and do some work in the garden before breakfast, whether it’s weeding or planting something. Especially when it’s nice, I like to spend some time in my bare feet outside. Even in November, I have fall crops in the hoop house: lettuce, beets, and carrots. And in the greenhouse I have herbs and lettuce.

RISKY BUSINESS: The weather is unpredictable now. Last February we had warm weather. I planted lettuce, kale and cabbage in the garden. I bought hay bales and put it around, and I got a greenhouse panel and put it on top. Then there were huge snowstorms in March, but everything survived and lived. End of March, beginning of April after the storms were over, I was outside harvesting in the garden. Especially with this erratic weather, you should just take risks and try things that you might not have thought of before. There’s nothing to be afraid of with gardening. If something is a flop one year, it just gets composted and turned into dirt and it’s the treasure that will make next year’s amazing crop.

SQUASH THAT: After I do some gardening I’ll come in and have breakfast and tea. One of my favorite breakfasts is squash waffles. You just ziz up yellow squash in the blender, and then make the waffles with spelt and almond flour. No one can tell you’re getting veggies in your breakfast!

SPROUTING: The thing I’ll do in December, when there’s less happening out here in the garden, is grow sunflower sprouts. I get sad when the season’s over, but if I can be growing things inside that makes a difference. What you do is take a small container with dirt, and you lay the sunflower seeds pretty thick, and then lay a wet paper towel on top. You grow them like that for a few days until they start pushing up the paper towel. Then you take the towel off and give them some time in the window sills to green up and grow a little bit taller, and then you can trim and eat them in salads or stir fry.

BUD BUDDIES I mentor a young lady, Sarah. She has Downs Syndrome and is 21 years old. There’s a program called Independent Support Services, and they link up people with disabilities with mentors who have similar interests and can help them be more independent. I drive her places, and she sets goals: she wants to be healthy and exercise and loves gardening, weeding and being outside. So I’ll pick up Sarah and we’ll work on gardening. We’re also working on how to cook dinner for her mom. Each time we do a little bit of it, and one day we’ll pull it all together and have a surprise meal for her. She and I both love the rain so even if it rains we’ll be outside and having fun.

SWEET I deliver seasonal arrangements to Something Sweet in Middletown, and I also deliver some to the soup kitchen. Sometimes Sarah will help me with those.

#EATLOCAL In the winter, I love to make a salad from the greenhouse and put in nasturtiums — they’re an edible flower that’s kind of peppery. My mom makes really good bread, so to have a loaf of her bread and salad, and lentil soup using tomatoes I’ve frozen from the summer, and onions and garlic that we’ve grown. My husband enjoys chopping as long as he can wear his chef hat so he looks official.

DATE NIGHT: We don’t have TV, but we’ll watch movies sometimes. We really like to go to the Paramount Theatre, it’s such a big, old beautiful theater, and they bring in such interesting movies.

WIND DOWN: I like to read at the end of the day. Right now I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s a really beautiful book written by a Native American biology professor. So she shares Native American traditions and also gives a scientific perspective.

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