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Finding Assets in Earwigs

By Beth Labenz, SNAP-Ed Educator

This is my first year growing my very own garden. This is also my first year with University of Minnesota Extension. It is not a coincidence that both of those firsts occurred at the same time.

Last September, I decided to accept a position as a SNAP-Ed educator and move back to my rural, Southwest Minnesota farming community. That meant that I was moving back as a single twenty-something (yes I can still say “twenty-something” for one more year), back to my family farm and into my parents’ basement. After discussing so many community garden projects at various community meetings, I decided to embrace farm life and start my own garden. I had space. I had seeds. I even had some know-how, thanks to Extension’s Garden website. I had everything I needed to begin this journey of becoming a gardener.

Or so I thought.

Stubborn Seeds and Irritating Earwigs

You can give a seed everything it needs and sometimes things still just go wrong. Some seeds I showered with attention and even though I wanted them to come into the world and join my garden, they never even bothered to sprout.

Then came the earwigs.

Earwigs clustered on milkweed.
Photo: Jeff Hahn
Earwigs were destroying little seedlings left and right in my precious garden. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing something that is totally out of your control destroy a project you care so deeply and passionately about, and that is exactly what the earwigs did.

Near the peak of my frustration with the earwigs, I attended a Watonwan County Community Food Partnership meeting. While discussing our community gardens projects, one of the group members asked about my garden and how it was going. When I described my earwig infestation to her, she immediately wanted to help. She too is a gardener — and not just a gardener, but a farmer! Talking with her, I found out two things:

  1. She may have a solution for me in the form of a powder called diatomaceous earth.
  2. She had her own farm business that was in the Minnesota Grown Directory that I had brought to the meeting that very day to share with the group.
All that time discussing “project business,” and I had never known she herself was a “Minnesota Grown Official Farmer” as well.

The next day, my new farmer friend delivered diatomaceous earth to my office to see if it would work. It was truly the best of small town living: People who show up and genuinely care, even though in the case of my home garden, my success had absolutely no benefit to her. And success is what I had! Diatomaceous earth was just the ticket to get my earwigs to calm down enough to let my garden grow out of infancy and into full blown maturity.

Teenager pumpkin vines.
Photo: Beth Labenz

I spend so much time weeding, watering, sprinkling more diatomaceous earth, and now collecting veggies, that I have lots of time to reflect on life and my work at Extension. One night, while I was out collecting more cucumbers than I thought possible for my garden to produce, I was particularly reflective of our time at the 2016 Qualey-Skjervold Staff Development Conference and the work we do.

Sometimes our challenges seem too great. The work is too hard. People are too difficult. Just like those seeds in my garden, sometimes the participants don’t show up, even though you really want them to. Just like the earwigs, sometimes you encounter nay-sayers that destroy your ideas or your ambitions about a project you care passionately about and have worked too many hours on.

And then sometimes you meet people who come up with solutions out of the blue and show genuine compassion and concern. Sometimes you get to see the actual fruits (or veggies in my case) of your labor — our labor. That is when I feel proud to be doing the work I am doing. That is when I feel proud to live back in the community I left 10 years ago thinking I would never return.

Down with Deficits

Now, several of the wonderful speakers at the conference doing inspiring work in their communities encouraged us to focus on assets instead of deficits. What are the earwigs’ assets? They may have set me back, but they did not knock me down. Their agenda was definitely different than my agenda, but they taught me to reach out to those around me and ask for help. They taught me to never give up and to not throw my hands in the air (although I thought about it several times). Most important, through their persistence in destroying my garden, I learned that I really cared about this project and I was passionate about gardening. Who knew I could embrace this farm life again and be so passionate about the community I was sure I would never be a part of again?

As gardeners or educators, our work is hard. There is no doubt about it. But when I look at my pumpkin vines grabbing so tightly to a blade of grass just to crawl forward slightly, I am reminded that every little bit counts and the end result is truly inspiring.

Photo: Beth Labenz

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