Making our environment more beautiful can also make it more healthy, and this week’s Hometown Hero spends her time doing just that.

Gardening may be a pleasant pastime, but through her gardening, Valerie Walton, 73, of Blooming Valley, is doing more than pursuing a hobby. Her passion for gardening includes educating others, protecting our food system, and even helping those who are incarcerated.

Walton comes from a long line of people who work the land.

“My great-grandparents were basically homesteaders,” she said. “It was like you garden or else.”

Walton, who is a retired registered nurse and mother of two, became a Penn State Master Gardener in 2007. The master gardener classification through the Penn State Extension requires coursework and an exam as well as 50 hours of volunteer work the first year and 30 hours in subsequent years. As a master gardener, she presents educational programs and talks throughout the county as well as neighboring counties. Once a month she presents a talk at the Linesville Garden Group. Walton also goes into local schools to present programs.

“I think it’s a necessary program. There’s so many people who could benefit from being able to grow their own food, even if it’s a limited amount,” Walton said.

Five years ago Walton was invited by a unit manager to develop a horticulture class at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs.

“It’s just a joy to pass on your information to people,” Walton said. “They are a very eager group for information.”

Each year she teaches a class of 20 women there once a week from January through May and then she continues meeting with past students.

Walton said gardening brings to joy to people, and “it kind of brings you closer to God.”

Some of Walton’s other volunteer projects have included creating and maintaining two raised pollinator beds at the Crawford County Fairgrounds and raising vegetable seedlings for a plant sale to benefit gardening programming.

A major emphasis of hers is pollinator protection. One out of every three bites of food we eat comes from something pollinated, she said, and without pollinators, bees’ choices of food will diminish.

“Our food source depends on pollinators,” she said. ‘We need to change our ways so we can save our pollinators.”

Whether she is digging and planting herself, or educating others on how to do in one of her 22 different talks, Walton’s efforts are bettering the environment around her.

“It’s a great joy to be able to go out and affect your environment and make it beautiful with flowers you want to grow or make it healthier with the food you eat,” she said.

To nominate a Hometown Hero, send a brief couple sentences why that person is deserving to with “Hometown Hero” in the subject line. Please include a daytime phone number and email address if possible. 

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