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The Green Thumb Quotient 

by Paul K. Haeder & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & J & lt;/span & ust as gardening season descends upon us like all that Ponderosa pine pollen, Spokane may be on the cusp of major shifts in how we view our Kentucky bluegrass and water-loving ornamentals. While sustainability forums get at the underbelly of the geopolitics of Middle Eastern oil fields over-pumping and over-estimating reserves, or the greed of Enron and Exxon, WSU Extension master gardeners and Group Health reps are looking to help the community prepare for a new gardening wave.

"This type of format allows Spokane County Conservation District and WSU master gardeners to show the public how to grow some seasonal crops," says Dan Lambert, a volunteer who helped put on the May 20 Gardening for Good Health event.

Tips on how to prepare and sustain raised-bed crops and container herb gardens, as well as esoteric gardening activities like planting for touch and smell, or making cement casting of leaves, were doled out by Group Health employees, master composters and master gardeners.

But the bio-regional perspective was still apparent. The depletion of the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer was on the minds of several experts, including Cindie Johnson, coordinator of the Master Gardener Program. She realizes that rethinking the ornamental lawn and the practice of all those chemical applications to battle weeds, fungi and crawling pests will take time.

"But I was surprised to read an article in the paper [relating the effects of our population growth and the choices in landscaping] about the aquifer," Johnson said. "Growing lawns is a cultural thing. But there is more awareness of the aquifer's importance."

In addition, the garden forum offered short courses on preparing fresh food and preserving food.

Physical therapist Craig Smith and Dr. Sarah Kirkpatrick told participants how to stay fit and reduce gardening-related back injuries. With an aging population, soon there will be an upswing in backyard food gardening. Smith and Kirkpatrick shared 10 reasons why gardening is good for our health.

By gardening for our own food supply, we engage in physical exercise equaling the strength and cardio workouts available at a gym; we enjoy the benefits of a stress reliever; we tend to eat more of what we grow (fruits and veggies); and we build a local safety net for our food-supply systems.

The master gardeners' services in assisting county residents in how to choose landscaping species, how to diagnose and cure plant disease and how to connect to a wider ring of agricultural alternatives have been here for years. Lambert, who is also marketing director for Evergreen Renewable Technologies, laments that the resources at 222 N. Havana St. are underutilized.

But the impending energy vortex will change that, says Lambert: "While there is still widespread apathy about where and how our food is grown, I've seen more people starting to work for answers at the local level."

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