The American Botanical Council (ABC) recognizes Daniel Elliott as its 2019 volunteer of the year. Elliott, a native of Waco, Texas, is a father, massage therapist, and musician who plays the bass guitar at his church. Almost every Tuesday since May 2018, he has come to ABC’s headquarters, the historic 2.5-acre Case Mill Homestead in East Austin, to work in the gardens on the property.
“Basically, I’ve touched almost every inch of the yard by now,” Elliott said with a laugh. Unafraid to get his hands dirty or endure the often-intense Texas heat, he helps maintain the grounds not for monetary compensation, but because he wants to.
Elliott learned about ABC while searching for volunteer opportunities online. At first, he was looking to work with animals but started to find options involving gardening. He thought: “I would like to learn how to garden. It wouldn’t hurt…, so that I can start planting my own garden in the backyard, and be self-sustainable, and learn how to grow my own food. I came here and have been here ever since.”
Although he had no previous gardening experience, Elliott thinks working with plants makes him a better father to his two-year-old son, Kyree. “Gardening goes hand in hand with life, in a way,” Elliott said. “Having a child is life, and then gardening is life.” He hopes to one day pass down what he’s learned at ABC to Kyree, so he, too, can grow his own food and medicine.
Elliott likes ABC’s “nice and chill environment” and has enjoyed learning about the entire process of gardening, from beginning to end, including planting, mulching, and weeding. “Then, as the months go by, you start to see everything start blooming,” he said. “It’s like seeing the fruits of your labor, which is an interesting thing to see.”
For Elliott, the most challenging part has been working in the temperature extremes of Central Texas, but he would recommend the experience to others. “Of course I would pass it on to other people and tell them to come here, because it’s a skill that everybody should know,” he said. “Why would you not want to know how to grow your own [plants]?”
Elliott plans to maintain a relationship with ABC for as long as he can. “There is no telling what the future holds and how things twist and turn, but for as long as I can go, I’ll keep going,” he said.
ABC chose Elliott as its volunteer of the year for 2019 because he has logged more than 75 hours with the organization, which is more than any other volunteer since he started. ABC has not named a volunteer of the year since Clark Dufour in 2013.
Toby Bernal, ABC’s head gardener who has helped supervise Elliott, said: “I’ve had a great time working with him in the garden and admire his commitment to becoming a better father and gardener. He always comes in with a smile and always does a great job.” Bernal added that Elliott also has helped with the stone work around some of the garden beds.
Jenny Perez, ABC’s education coordinator, said: “Daniel is appreciated for being one of our most consistent garden volunteers, showing up weekly regardless of what the weather was like. Daniel has a warm smile and positive, friendly attitude about life. He never complains about the various garden tasks he helps out with and does a thorough job. Daniel has a strong interest in helping others. During his time volunteering in the gardens at ABC, he has cultivated an interest in herbal medicine and has participated in some of the kitchen medicine lessons that I teach primarily to ABC pharmacy and dietetic interns.”
Information about volunteer opportunities at ABC is available at www.herbalgram.org.