A seed sprouts as the tree leaves

Last week, I said goodbye to my good friend Leslie Allen, who is leaving Reno. Leslie is well-known in this community as the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension horticulturist, Reno Gazette-Journal contributor and member of Locavore Nation. In her public classes, community involvement, and regular articles for the RG-J, Leslie has been a tireless voice of information and encouragement for our local food renaissance. I am one of the many people in this community inspired by Leslie to grow some of my own food, even though I still feel awkward about my own gardening skills.

I first met Leslie years ago, when the Academy for the Environment was just getting underway, but I really got to know her two years ago when Environmental Studies students decided to build an organic garden on the UNR campus. Leslie connected us with the Master Gardeners and was an incredible support for the project, donating hours of her own personal time to coach, encourage and support the students as they worked to prep the ground and nurture the plants. My favorite day that first summer was the morning we received a gift of approximately 30 cubic yards of well-cured horse manure from one of Leslie’s Master Gardener contacts. She and I and a couple of students spent several hours that hot morning shoveling the good stuff into piles for the soon-to-be hand-dug beds, living that old joke about what “Ph.D.” really stands for. (OK, Piled Higher and Deeper.)

Leslie is a professional all the way through—an unending font of information about and passion for organic farming, local food, raising chickens, composting, and good beer. But she has other qualities that are difficult to describe without sounding completely sentimental or goofy—an irresistible spirit, a love of learning, fabulous sense of humor and a complete joie de vivre that make her just a delight to spend time with. Her farewell parties collected passionate gardeners and local farmers, as one would expect—but an eclectic combination of people from all sectors of our community as well. She was just one of those people who draws other people together—a “Maven,” I think Malcolm Gladwell would say. What is really cool and amazing about Leslie is the way she finds and connects other cool and amazing people together. She isn’t the kind of person who needs to have her ego out in front of other people; she is the kind of person who delights in seeing others get excited about the same things she cares about and taking off to do their own thing. This world is so starved for people like her—wouldn’t it be great if our taxpayer and investment resources went into finding and promoting people with these qualities, or nurturing them in our kids? What would it be like to have a society where the Leslie Allens were the superstars kids wanted to grow up to be?

Leslie is off to Bozeman, Mont., where her husband, James, has a great job opportunity with REI. She was able to get off the UNR planet just before the Gibster trained the death-star ray on it the second time around. How many other talented, inspiring folks will leave this community before we get our feet back under us? It saddens me to see her go, though I also know she leaves behind a strong, connected community of local farmers, organic gardeners, and wannabes like me starting hopeful seeds, knowing spring will come eventually in spite of the snow outside the window.