In Cabarrus County, nothing heralds spring like the Plant and Herb Festival that Master Gardeners hold each year at the Piedmont Farmers Market in Concord. More than 70 vendors and 4,000 visitors are expected at this year’s event, which takes place Saturday April 14.
Master Gardeners organize and advertise the event – one of the region’s largest festivals — and they are on hand throughout the day to answer festival-goers questions. One of them, Jackie Ashton, says the event is designed to be educational.
“We put up lots of posters explaining the different kinds of things you can plant here, what grows well, when you should plant and that sort of thing. At any given time, we also have eight to 10 Master Gardeners wandering around answering questions,” Ashton says.
As a former school teacher, Ashton is used to answering questions. And the Master Gardeners program has given her the chance not only to help others find answers, the native Midwesterner says, but also to learn for herself specifics about gardening in the South.
Because the county is home to a lot of newcomers moving from other places in the country, such questions come up frequently, Ashton says. “An example is the greens that we eat here in the South – people coming from the Midwest don’t know about them. And so we get at the festival questions not only about growing greens but also how to cook them.
“This climate here is wonderful for growing things,” she adds. “So we talk about things you can grow in the winter here. We talk to people about fruits you can grow here such as figs and pomegranates – last year there were people who didn’t realize you could grow those here.”
Cooperative Extension agriculture agent David Goforth says the festival not only provides gardeners with answers and a source for buying garden plants and related items, it also gives the community a boost.
“The festival is a win in so many ways,” he says. “Vendors make money. And the Master Gardener volunteers also raise funds used in a mini-grant program that has made possible numerous school and community garden projects.”