Hands in the dirt, McCall comes up with gold

Call of the Valley

Shelly Frome
Special to The Black Mountain News

Diana McCall likes to say that her interests go beyond what you’d expect from a minivan-driving mother of three and garden manager. As the old saying goes, that’s putting it mildly.

Her stories - about wanderings in the woods as a child on her 50-acre home in Missouri, about cavorting to tunes on a jukebox in her basement and, later on, about working for the Boy Scouts as a backpacking guide - lead only to more stories and pursuits. As a college honors student, she studied overseas at Cambridge University, where she took courses in photography, sculpture, English literature, botany and other sciences while taking part in a modern dance company with French roots.

Manager of the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, Diana McCall loves making compost, growing flowers and helping residents harvest their own vegetables.

Given McCall's seemingly endless stories about what interests her, the listener's best bet is to zero in on the time she set up a catering service and cooking school at Warren Wilson College. That led to her current work, managing the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden in Black Mountain.

“As I recall,” McCall said, “this venture started in August 2005. I was taking a walk down White Pine Drive with my baby son, and I came across what appeared to be a jungle. Then I saw peppers growing in the weeds and realized people were gardening here."

McCall had stumbled upon the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, which, she learned from a poster at Warren Wilson, was looking for volunteers. She became Wilson's mentee, helping the retired doctor grow things year-round while putting food on the table for her family. Not long after she started, Wilson asked her if she'd like to get paid for her work.

"He worked his magic," McCall said.

Diana McCall's love for the outdoors started during her childhood roaming her 50-acre Missouri home.

In due course, McCall had a vital role in the interdependent web that makes the Swannanoa Valley so unique. Her pursuits became an integral part of Bounty & Soul's five free-produce distribution centers. She gave cooking classes at local schools and the Black Mountain Farmers Market. Her responsibilities at the garden included coordinating a growing number of volunteers and overseeing the families who rent gardening plots. She saw to the care of flowers, fruit trees, medicinal plants, edible plants, culinary herbs and habitats for butterflies, wild creatures and birds. Fascinated by the world of micro organisms, she made compost heaps (something she loves doing).

Occasionally, she and Jill Edwards, Black Mountain's health services program administrator, speak at the national parks and recreation conferences about how towns can serve residents through funded garden programs such as Black Mountain's.

Just when you think you may have heard all of McCall's stories, she keeps going. She teaches yoga and Bhangra, the popular Punjabi folk dance, at the Black Mountain Yoga Center. During the MANNA FooodBank Blue Jean Ball, the biggest fundraiser annually for the countywide food pantry, McCall and her dance troupe perform a 10-minute routine. On Valentine's Day, she cooks a five-course meal at White Horse Black Mountain. After seeing to dessert, she performs, in costume, a number that is related to food.

“Our community brings out the best in me because of its collaborative economy," McCall said. "I’ve bartered to take care of myself and my family by baking cakes for honey, and I’ve worked in someone’s (garden) patch in exchange for fixing my dishwasher. Everything thrives here due to these reciprocal relationships.

"Look at the value of this (community) garden and all the assets that come into play," she said. There's the money people pay to rent plots (which partially funds the garden). There are the environmental benefits to improving the land. The garden draws water from the Swannanoa River and labor and expertise from Warren Wilson College and its interns, she said.

The community garden feeds more than 90 families. "And the beauty it offers visitors," McCall said. "You’re rewarded for whatever talents you can bring to the process.”

Call of the Valley is writer Shelly Frome’s periodic profile of people who are drawn to the Swannanoa Valley.