Longtime instructor keeps up with Reedley gardening class

Reedley College instructor Oma Berry starts her 18th year teaching home food production course at community garden area behind Reedley Middle College High School

Reedley College gardening class instructor Oma Berry and former student Justin Rackley prepare the garden for the first day of classes. (Kenny Goodman)
Reedley College gardening class instructor Oma Berry and former student Justin Rackley prepare the garden for the first day of classes. (Kenny Goodman)
Jon Earnest
Published August 9, 2023  • 
5:00 pm

REEDLEY – A local college tradition that has lasted the better part of two decades is continuing this fall in the school’s community garden area, right behind the new Reedley Middle College High School facility.

This week, Oma Berry began her 18th year of instruction of a weekly gardening class called home food production. The hands-on class allows students to grow their particular food group while following the process from planting to getting the produce on the table.

“You learn how to grow it and fix it, keep it, preserve it and eat it,” said Berry, who said the proof of the pudding is in the eating. “If you take the class, you can have a garden plot.”

Berry’s experience at the 4-acre garden extends well beyond her 17 years as an instructor. The 80-year-old once was a student and longtime gardener herself at the community garden, which at one time covered more than 15 acres in the area before the middle college high school was built and opened in April 2019.

In earlier years, Berry had as many as 30 students in her class, and she’s now looking to build on the 15-odd students that currently take the home food production course.

“We definitely can use some more students,” she saId. “I’m glad to have them, and everybody’s personality adds to the class.”

Ying, a gardening class student, is out early to harvest some of her crops from her garden plot. (Kenny Goodman)

While the food production course is for home gardeners, Berry’s background has been as a landscape designer; but thankfully, the course also covers many aspects in that field. She managed Belmont Nursery in Fresno for many years as well as the Dinuba Garden Center.

“I have a handout that tells you what to do at your home that month for all your landscaping. Not only just food, but everything to do with living in the San Joaquin Valley,” she said. “Everything I do is based on my Master Gardener training from UC Davis.” Berry became a Master Gardener in 1999 and earned her California certified nursery woman status in 1982.

Every month, Berry provides a handout for what to do and when to do it. For example, she demonstrated when the right time is to prune your plants.

“(If) you cut off the flesh, then the other growth isn’t growing actively anymore,” she said. “So it’s all about learning when to do it, and do it effectively.” Berry then moved to an area where seedlings were taking root.

“Now is the time to start your seeds for your winter vegetables (like) broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. It’s busy and it’s fun,” she said.

 

The hour-long lectures on Thursdays run not only during the school course, but over the summertime.

“If it’s hot, we come out and work from 7 to 9 (a.m.). And if it’s cold, we work from 10 to 12,” she said. Over the years, the class has included a number of notable guest lecturers.

Former Reedley College student Justin Rackley helps clear weeds from the garden. (Kenny Goodman)

Berry showed some of the food growing in the garden including corn, sweet potato, peanut blooms, Oriental long beans and pinto beans. There also are 14 different varieties of squash, pumpkins and melons growing. Future projects in September include pruning the berry vines.

Berry encourages people of all ages to register and take the class.

“We are wanting to attract new people,” she said. “You will have a good time and you will benefit from it. The exercise and social interaction is great for you. It keeps you young and healthy

For more information on Berry’s class and other educational options, call Reedley College at 559-494-3000.

Jon Earnest
Reporter