You know how you think you know a person but really don’t understand why they do things?
I wondered that about my friend, Greg Towne. I knew he was an exceptional Master Gardener and a really nice person. But what I did not know, is that when Greg was a child, he was fascinated by putting things together, especially scrap wood or other things that spoke to him. He explained that he was “wired to build.” He is a combination engineer, carpenter and caring man. All of these things figure in to who he is and why he is so special.
We all know that master gardeners are “givers”. They give their time, their knowledge and their passion to help promote the appreciation of the natural world.
Greg has been a master gardener since 2007. He has been involved in a wide variety of projects throughout his tenure. He gives presentations on various topics, designed, built and donated a raised bed for a senior center, and leads the gardening program at the Glen Lake Home school, a program that is in its’ 13th year. His biggest passion is educating youth. He loves to help kids to “get in the dirt.”
The Minnetonka school district has honored Greg with the 2019 “Child Centered Excellence” award for volunteers. It was given for his volunteer service to the Minnetonka community education youth programs. This award is a tribute to his exemplary efforts and commitment to excellence. Nick Pyzdrowski, from the Community Education Explorers Program at Excelsior elementary, nominated Greg for this award. Nick has “been inspired by the model of service that Greg exemplifies every day.” This award recognizes his service to the community and specifically to the Explorers club at Excelsior elementary and Scenic Heights elementary. The Explorers club is an after school program that is designed to “engage students in grades 3-5 in hands-on, inquiry based learning opportunities.” Greg was instrumental in creating a high quality and sustainable garden program to support naturalistic education.
Using his engineering and carpentry skills, he designed and built seventeen raised beds for the Explorers programs at Excelsior elementary and Scenic Heights elementary school. He has also provided soil, plants, tools and materials, often financing the purchases himself. In 2018 he designed and built hydroponics tables for each school to enable the programs to provide year round access to growing plants. His efforts also introduced the students to an alternative method of cultivating plants.
Since 2017, Greg has met weekly with the students in the Explorers programs to offer activities and lessons he designs. These lessons are aimed at “getting youth to understand the circle of life.” Topics introduce the basics of planting seeds and measuring the progress of growth. Lessons also include many other concepts from culinary experiments to health and wellness. Staff has reported that, “students have demonstrated improved attitudes, increased enthusiasm and a broader understanding of the natural world.” Greg makes a point to connect with each of the students individually and offers encouragement to each of them. One of his students shared that “Mr. Towne knows a lot and is also really nice.” No higher praise could be given!
The families of the students have also benefitted. After getting permission, Greg allows students to choose plants and sends them home with students. This encourages them and their family to start a garden. He offers advice or trouble-shooting in case they have a garden related question…. even giving out his personal phone number! At the end of the growing season, youth and adults can participate in a celebration and share their favorite garden related experiences during the school year. Since there are diverse families, students are encouraged to bring in a recipe from their own culture, to share with others. All of these things foster a positive relationship with the families.
Greg is a “giver.” He has given his time, shared his knowledge, and lived his passion for educating youth. He is also a “builder.” He builds structures, he builds gardens, and most importantly, he builds community.
Greg is also a humble man and dislikes being in the limelight. He says he lives by the mantra: “love what you do, do what you love.”
We would be remiss if we didn’t take this opportunity to congratulate Greg for this award and his outstanding accomplishments .
Thank you Greg, for showing us all what it means to be a great Master Gardener!
By Val McGruder, Hennepin County Master Gardener
Watch the full award program video (Greg is shown at approx 44 min)