UNH Extension’s first Master Gardener class was held in 1993. Among those attending was Sachiko Ito Howard, better known as Sachie. She says participants back then had to pick “a special project” to complete the course. “Mine was growing unusual vegetables used in ethnic cuisines, mainly Japanese and Chinese.” Over the years she has held cooking demonstrations to show the “public how to use Asian and specialty Mexican vegetables.” She grew edamame - whole, immature soybeans, and mizuna - leafy green lettuces, similar to peppery arugula, long before anyone heard of them. “Thirty years ago, hardly anyone around here grew the kinds of vegetables I was growing.”
She brought cooked, lightly, sea-salted edamame as a snack to many Extension gatherings. She also remembers being asked by Extension staff to explain home-grown Asian vegetables at the Hopkinton State Fair.
At Henniker’s ‘Old Home Day’ one year, Sachie entered the vegetable contest. “I got all first places for my Asian eggplants, cucumbers, edamame and mizuna,” she says. Over three decades she has answered many questions from people about all types of vegetables at farmers’ markets, grocery stores and elsewhere.
She was born in Osaka, Japan, and came to the U. S. at 14 with her brother to join her mother who taught Japanese at Yale University. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1966, the first female class to receive their degrees from Harvard University. She married Rob Howard, a Harvard classmate, and the couple moved to NH in 1969. They have two children, a daughter living in Nevada and a son in Hawaii. “When the kids were old enough, I got a PHD in chemistry from UNH, then taught organic chemistry at UNH, Suffolk University and New England College.” She also did research at Brandeis University.
Continuing to learn new things, Sachie recently completed UNH’s Master Wellness Volunteer Program for the vaccine education pathway and is putting together a service plan. She is also a Natural Resources Steward. For 10 years she taught permaculture classes during summers at New England College. She now helps with the garden at the Colby Hill Inn, growing unusual vegetables for the inn’s restaurant, The Grazing Room. “It’s hard for the farm-to-table chef to find specialty vegetables and herbs for his global cuisine,” she says.
Sachie’s family history goes back to medieval Japan, and samurai ethics permeated in her mother and grandmother’s generation. “My mother was horrified, in jest, I think, that I started a garden. She told me that my grandmother would be turning over in her grave knowing her granddaughter became a farmer,” a lowly pursuit in samurai tradition. Despite being horrified, Sachie says, “My mother loved the vegetables I grew, especially the baby Japanese eggplants used for pickles.”
Through the 30 years of the UNH Extension Master Gardener program, well over 1000 individuals have participated in the training. Some people volunteer for a few years and move on to other pursuits. A handful of people continue for decades. We are extremely appreciative and honored to have long term, dedicated volunteers like Sachie Howard who have shared so much time and talent to educate the public and be ambassadors for Extension.