By K.C. Mehaffey The Wenatchee World, Wash.
For Tess Hoke, backyard gardening isn't just a hobby. It's her business. It's also her passion. But, most importantly, she says, the knowledge of how to grow, preserve and cook our own food is the best chance to create a healthy future and a safe, reliable food source.
Now, after spreading the word for decades about homegrown food through classes and interactions with her customers, Hoke has taken her game to the next level: social media.
At age 55, diving into this new way of communicating is not exactly second nature. But with help from her social media manager, 28-year-old Lillian O'Rorke, Hoke has jumped in with both feet.
In January, with O'Rorke's help, she launched a new website, tesshoke.com. Besides a storefront in Twisp, this is the home base for her venture, YardFood, where visitors are encouraged to "grow your groceries."
People who sign up get free weekly tips in the form of short video blogs sent right to their inbox. They're also connecting with people on YouTube. And on Facebook.
Oh, and don't forget Instagram. And Pinterest.
On Oct. 1, Hoke launched her first online course. Grow Your Garlic, it's called. "All summer, we've been following the crop," Hoke said. "We recorded an entire year of garlic, and produced it into an online course."
It's a class that Hoke has taught many times, to hundreds of people in the last 10 years. And she's spent countless hours reviewing what she taught to people who forgot a few months later what to do next.
She's also taught gardening to kids. For six years, Hoke taught students at the Methow Valley Community School a program she developed called Locavores, which took students through the whole process of gardening, preserving and cooking foods. In 2012, the curriculum was named the most innovative program in a private school by the Washington State Federation of Independent Schools.
Now, with an online class, her students can be any age and live anywhere in the world. And once they've downloaded the course, they'll have the information at their fingertips, so if they forget how to care for their garlic come spring, they can just review it.
With this online class, she said, "I can bring my information to a much bigger audience. I love teaching people how to grow food. If I can reach out into the world and teach more people, I can have a much bigger impact."
Impact is what it's all about for Hoke and O'Rorke, who readily admit all these online ventures aren't making much money. At least not yet.
Whether or not it's financially successful, these women are committed to working toward positive change by helping people choose homegrown food.
"The whole thing about modern agriculture and obesity, that's not a happy topic," Hoke said. "We decided to take it and flip it around and present it in a fun way, so it's not a downer."
O'Rorke, who grew up in the Methow Valley, recently returned after earning her degree in journalism, getting married, and having a baby, Eimear, who is now just a toddler. "I used to work for Tess, and when I moved back, she asked, 'Are you going back to work? What would it take?'" O'Rorke said. "I told her it would have to be something really meaningful."
Producing videos and online courses to help people learn to grow their groceries fit the bill. "I believe in this cause 110 percent," she said.
The day before the Grow Your Garlic course's launch date, Hoke and O'Rorke sat around Hoke's kitchen table. They worked out details of how to market the class through their various online forums while Eimear crawled around the kitchen, or climbed up on her mother's lap to look at the computer screen.
They talked about how to advertise the class, and which ads would appeal to baby boomers, or to milennials.
Hoke said she believes there's a resurgence in people who want to grow their own food, among people her age, and in the next generation.
"What's interesting to me is how few people know this," she said. "It didn't get passed from one generation to the next. This is valuable information."
Hoke grew up on a farm in Colville; her parents were back-to-the-landers. "What I didn't learn from my mother was what to do with it," she said. But for that, she figured it out herself.
"Now, I'm carrying on where my parents left off, and so grateful for it," she said.
For baby boomers like herself, who may not be comfortable with the dot-com method of learning, Hoke still has her "brick-and-mortar" store in Twisp, as O'Rorke calls it. And people stop by regularly to ask her advice.
Many are fans of her radio show on KTRT, where she and host Don Ashford just chat about what's happening in her garden.
She still visits garden clubs, and speaks at annual meetings when invited. And her days of teaching in-person classes on planting, harvesting and cooking aren't necessarily over.
No matter what the method, O'Rorke said, "It's all about pulling this information out of Tess' brain."