Spring is in full bloom and now’s the time to start preparing your garden so you can get the most out of the warmer days ahead. This month we had the chance to chat with organic gardener and owner of Fresh Exchange, Megan. We learned all about why she's passionate about organic gardening, what tools any gardener should invest in, and her 5 tips for beginner gardeners. You can follow Megan on Instagram at @freshexhange to learn more about her online community and gardening tips.
Q: Tell us about yourself! How did you first get into gardening?
Megan: I am Megan Gilger and I run Fresh Exchange, where I teach people to become confident gardeners. I strongly believe that the garden is the easiest to connect more deeply with nature and the seasons. When we are confident gardeners we can hear and pay attention better to nature, which results in being happier and more content in our modern world.
Gardening has always been a part of my life. I grew up in the garden and learned plenty from my grandfather. He passed when I was young, at 7 years old, but the garden always stuck with me. No matter where I have been in life I have found myself deep in nature and connected to the soil.
When I had my son, I wanted to focus my career in a new direction that focused on teaching something meaningful, which to me was gardening. I wanted others to understand it isn’t complicated and can be at your own pace. It is a beautiful and healing way whether you grow a pot of herbs on your porch or have an acre of land you tend to. Either can be deeply life-giving.
My focus is on creating a safe and respectful environment for gardeners of all levels, which is why I have my podcast and online community where I have hours of courses that are easy to use while connecting to a group of over 200+ like-minded gardeners to learn with throughout the year.
Q: What type of education do you usually share with your community?
Megan: In the community, I have a new course releasing every month. It sounds like a lot but these courses are smart and concise and easy to take wherever you are. There are live events and more to help learning happen in plenty of ways for our members. I love using our learning and community platform for teaching but gardening just like anything is best to learn amongst others.
I believe deeply in the power of community and don’t believe in self-sufficiency but community sufficiency. I think it takes the pressure off growing a massive garden to supply things for yourself. The same thing goes for learning. We don’t have to know everything to jump in, instead, we can ask others for ideas and thoughts to learn what is right for us.
In the community, we focus on learning the core things like all the things to get started. My beginner course has everything to grow your first garden without much thought. It is the base of everything you need to know. Then the courses are added from there about other topics like Companion Planting Methods, Soil, Organic fertilizing, and more.
There are SOO many ways to garden and I love that I can share my knowledge and then the community builds upon it and we can discuss in a way that isn’t possible on social media.
Q: What have been some of your favorite garden projects?
Megan: We started here 5 years ago with brand new land. The hill we live on here in Leelanau County, Michigan was a gravel pit more or less. Everything was dead. Then we built here in hopes we could revitalize what felt broken and in need of repair.
I would love to say one thing has been the most amazing, but I have to say, building something from nothing has been incredible. I understand this land and the natural world around us so much better even though I grew up in this area. There is this beautiful thing that happens when we pour into land and begin with the intention of healing it and respecting it. Watching this world here go from empty and lifeless to seeing new bird varieties every year and new bugs is amazing. Every year there are new wildflowers spreading and it is so powerful.
In the world we live in it can be so much about immediacy, but when we garden and take things in terms of years we realize how great things truly take time and that nature can heal itself if we are willing to give it space to do so.
Q: How did you get into organic gardening and why are you passionate about it?
Megan: I worked one summer on a farm that wasn’t certified organic, but they were beyond it. They worked with nature in the most holistic way possible. I saw what happens throughout a growing season and tasted the literal difference in the food. It changed so much for me.
So when we began our gardens I knew I wanted to approach it this way. I focused on Companion Planting methods which create tiny intentional ecosystems focused on biodiversity to protect and balance the greater ecosystem to protect plants like our tomatoes or brassicas against pests we would typically spray for. The methods have been used for over 12,000 years.
What I learned is that nature offers us everything we need if we are willing to pay close enough attention to what it’s offerings. Not only that we can increase our yields, have fewer weeds, improve our soil healthy, have better tasting food, and my gosh is it beautiful too!
I love creating these little communities in our garden instead of just mono-cropping things together. I still use rows in our larger garden spaces but I interplant with companions and I can tell you it works. I have watched the ecosystem bring natural balance without my intervention. It’s powerful to witness.
What I love out of it all is everything is growing in the natural environment we never spray anything so my young children can walk out and pick tomatoes and berries and I never have to worry about it.
Q: Starting a garden can be overwhelming to a beginner. What would be your top 5 tips for a beginner gardener?
Megan: It can be but being a beginner can be so exciting! I still feel like a beginner every year I start in my garden. Here are my top tips:
- Start small - 1-2 raised beds is more than enough. I know you may want more, but for your first year or two keep it small and simple. The smaller the more success you will feel.
- Don’t get caught up in the nitty gritty - It is hard but gardening is simple don’t get too deep on every Instagram reel’s suggestions. Just go for it! Jump in and learn about your space and garden.
- Ask Your Community - I always suggest when buying plants to do it from a small farm or local plant store and not a box store. Smaller productions have people more in touch with the plants and their needs. They want you to succeed too! They have the best local knowledge on care and plant timings.
- Focus on your soil - Great soil is the key to most of the issues in the garden. I teach about this in my soil course, but don’t use too much compost and know the quality of your compost. It will matter in creating healthy soil. Also skip big box store soils and look more local.
- Have fun! It sounds cliche but you are going to mess up. Truly. No matter what, the first couple years are hard. But just celebrate what works and learn from what doesn’t. This is why starting small is so key!
Q: What are a few essential tools you think any beginner in the garden space should own?
Megan: Tools are so helpful I love a few things:
- Gloves - all the weeding and work can get hard on your hands. I always have gloves.
- Hand trowel - this is just a hand shovel but I use it for so much.
- Stirrup Hoe - Best weeding tool ever!!!
- Wheelbarrow - I love a two-wheel wheelbarrow for moving mulch and soil.
- A good multi-stream nozzle for your hose - this is great for all the different needs your plants have.
Q: Where can our audience get in touch with you to learn more about the resources you share?
Megan: You can head to Freshexchange.com to learn everything about the community. Every month I offer free virtual workshops and have a weekly email as well. You can get a high level of the community by checking out community.freshexchange.com
Finally, the only social I use is really just instagram. You can find me at @freshexchange on there.