As a child, Bob Markey enjoyed gardens. Growing up to become a real estate broker, he continued to garden the "old fashioned" way in Bucks County, Pennsylvania –big farm country. Then he moved to Rahway, New Jersey, where his home had only a 20 X 30 courtyard. His brother, Don, had begun using Square Foot Gardening (SFG) techniques back in the 80s, so Bob was familiar with the idea. He purchased Mel's book, All New Square Foot Gardening, and "immediately knew" that this method was ideal.
A month later, while at the local Rahway YMCA, Bob looked at the rear play yard and thought, "We could take a small area, set up a SFG with 10 boxes, and teach summer campers how to grow veggies and flowers." That's exactly what happened.
"Later that year, I became a Certified SFG Instructor," said Bob, "receiving my instruction and teaching in Eden, Utah, directly from the founder of SFG, Mel Bartholomew. I'm not a horticulturalist but a real estate broker. Gardening has been a part of my life since childhood and it is my passion and avocation. In 2011, I received my NJ Master Gardener Certification under the Rutgers umbrella."
The Great Zucchini Race was an idea of Bob's that grew from the SFG program for campers at the YMCA of Eastern Union County, Rahway Branch. Bob describes it as "simply a fun event for all our summer campers. The children select a zucchini squash, create an axle using a bamboo skewer, add wheels using, let's say, cherry tomatoes, and decorate their squash, and they now have a Zucchini Racer. We provide a 16-foot, three-lane racetrack. The fastest Zucchini Racer to get to the finish line is the winner. The children are then given recipes for zucchini with a sample to taste, and they take their racers home and eat them. That's what the Great Zucchini Race is all about."
This year the unique event drew the attention of local media and the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture, who was a special guest at The Great Zucchini Race at Rahway, New Jersey branch of YMCA on Thursday, August 2nd.
During the 2012 YMCA Summer Camp / SFGarden Program, between 30 to 35 students were in attendance, aged six through 13. The children grew a variety of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. The harvest ends up in several locations: camper's homes, donated to the community, or sold as a fundraiser at Jersey Fresh Farmer's Market.
Bob also helped set up a local community garden and continues as a member there. Boxes, soil mix, and aisles, were all designed meeting SFG specifications. Bob also provides demonstrations and workshops at gardening events.
Mel Bartholomew and Bob Markey are working on a guideline that should enable interested participants to replicate the success of the Great Zucchini Race. Contact Belinda Jensen, SFGF Teacher Specialist, for more details on how to bring this fun and educational activity to your local community.
With so many gardens producing such a bountiful harvest, Bob and all of the participants enjoy rich meals and many blessings. Planting seeds of wonder and knowledge in the minds of children is a noble goal, and Bob says, "seeing kids connecting with nature" has been his greatest reward.
Watch this video of YMCA SFG garden participants in action Back to the Garden – Kids Touching Nature, published by Activate Rahway, a city-wide, awareness-raising initiative to improve the health of the community by promoting physical activity and healthy eating.