“I wanted to learn how to grow things,” Gouveia said. “I wanted to invite other women to learn with me. I had a vision of creating a group of women that would be inspirational and generous. That vision just transformed into something even better.”
With that simple idea, she planted a seed that quickly took root in her community. Society meetings became a safe place to tune into nurturing and turn off outside noise.
As word spread about the group’s feel-good gardening vibe, more people wanted to take part. The society now lists about 1,200 members, from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
“It’s my life,” said Auburn’s Marcie Dubreville, a retired realtor. “The camaraderie of the women, knowledge of the gardening. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
“I’ve learned so much,” said Grass Valley’s Miriam Lytle, who owns a day spa. “Not just about gardening, but nutrition and a whole healthy lifestyle. I’m in the beauty business, and these women have a special inner beauty.”
“I swear our members look younger than when they joined,” Gouveia said. “It’s not botox; it’s positive female relationships.”
These people stay positive by keeping negatives out of their conversations.
“We don’t ever talk politics,” Dubreville noted. “It’s too complicated, too many opinions. Susan’s motto is, ‘No negative talk, no gossip; stay positive.’ That’s what makes this group work.”
Its location helps, too. Grass Valley has long been a haven for new ideas and agriculture.
Behind her home, Gouveia turned seven steeply sloped acres into a terraced demonstration farm featuring unusual edibles such as spineless nopales, pineapple guavas and cardoon (an artichoke cousin). Chickens roam freely through the garden, taking care of bugs.
Gouveia regularly hosts workshops and seminars at her demonstration farm, which includes an outdoor cob oven, rain harvesting system and composting toilet.
“Garden Goddess Community Demonstration Farm was started to teach people how to grow their own food and live a more sustainable lifestyle,” Gouveia said. “We support people in living a more joyous, passionate, generous, abundant and fulfilling life.”
That includes guys, too. Several dozen are among the society’s members.
“I like working with the earth,” said society member Ben Higbie, who built the farm’s cob oven. “That’s how I got connected with this group. I enjoy the potlucks; I always bring a dish. Good food, good people.”
“This is a unique group,” added Dubreville. “Part of it is our location. Other people ask me how do we start one? In the city, I don’t know if it would work.”
Gouveia leads by example. Her monthly get-togethers combine practical gardening, cooking and preservation skills with interesting twists.
“She embodies the lifestyle of being a goddess,” Lytle added. “She’s so good at it. She’s a goddess queen.”
At a recent potluck, the Garden Goddesses sampled homemade mead – fermented honey wine – spiced with fennel, star anise and licorice. (“Like heaven in a bottle,” said one member between sips.) They munched on a sensual all-squash buffet. (“Who knew squash could be so sexy?” quipped another member.) Then, they went outdoors to learn how to safely catch rattlesnakes (with a long plastic pipe).
“Susan is amazing,” said Kimberley Carville of Nevada City. “She brought us together. Now, we do all sorts of things together, from sleepovers to clothes swaps. It’s not just gardening, but our whole lives. We’ve formed these lifelong friendships. The bond is real. We help each other. It’s the best.”
Usually at Gouveia’s home, the group gets together for monthly meditation and community potlucks. Since January’s presidential inauguration, those potlucks also have become an opportunity for cultural awareness.
“I wanted to find a way to bridge cultural gaps, so I started inviting representatives from diverse groups,” Gouveia said. “That way we can all learn together.”
One month, Russian gardeners shared the foods they like to grow and eat as well as some favorite recipes. Besides food, they taught the group a few Russian words and phrases with a side course of history.
“That’s how we solve problems – through connecting with different cultures,” Gouveia said.
Other nights were dedicated to Latin, Japanese and Hindi cuisines and conversation.
“We know people want to know more about other cultures,” she said. “People definitely want to know how to grow their own food. This is an opportunity to create a sustainable bubble.”
It starts with an open mind and green thumbs.
Said Gouveia, “Helping each other bloom transforms families and communities all over the world.”