Since my membership in the Fox Valley club coincided with my introduction into growing, I never really went for long without the fellowship and educational opportunities it provided. In short, I took it for granted. I realized after a while, once internet message groups became popular, that many people are not fortunate enough to have a local club available for their benefit, and they don't realize what they're missing. Of course some folks just don't realize that these clubs even exist at all. They turn to the internet for their information and try to swim through it all, deciphering mixed messages or blurry photos.
So for those of you who are just now learning how to grow or are beginning to delve into the world of violets and clubs, let me give you a primer, starting at the most basic level. There exists one parent society in the United States, called the African Violet Society of America. It's roots are in America, but over the past decade, membership has grown internationally as well. It may well be the largest single Society devoted to African violets in the world, but I'm just speculating on that. The AVSA's mission is to spread education about the African violet, increase interest, and preserve the plant itself, both in its diverse hybrids and the wild species (this must also include an interest in preserving its natural habitat.)
As a parent club, AVSA set out to expand its network by establishing smaller, regional affiliate clubs for the benefit of interested people across the country. It can get confusing, however, since any club can establish itself with its own bylaws and membership requirements and choose NOT to become an affiliate club of AVSA. Most clubs do join, though, because the benefits of support and opportunities make it a valuable relationship. Affiliate clubs now exist all across the country, so to find one, visit AVSA's website and search affiliates, which are listed first by region and then by state. The information listed includes contact information, and meeting times and locations.
In case you're wondering, this entry is not really intended to be a commercial for AVSA, although I wouldn't hesitate to do it. I got a little off track from my original goal in an effort to explain how clubs originally began. There's much more history to AVSA, which truly is quite fascinating, but I'll leave that to them.
What sparked my desire to write this entry was the fact that I recently found myself in a club again. I made the commitment to put forth more effort in getting to a meeting, and I finally returned as a visitor to the Central Arkansas AVS in Little Rock. It put me right back into the "club" mode, and it was nice to play spectator for a while and soak it all in again. I met new friends, remembered others I'd met on my first visit, and was somewhat able to put aside my severe shyness to contribute a little something to the discussions.
Most clubs have a fairly typical routine, where business aspects are dealt with first, followed by fellowship, snacking, questions and educational programs. Business can be bland in any violet meeting, especially if you're a new grower just wanting to learn a little something, but good presidents run through it fairly quickly and move along the discussions. It's all worth it in the end, though, when you walk out with a new leaf or cutting, having learned something useful (even if you're a seasoned grower,) and made a few new friends who speak your language.
And of course, that's the draw with violet clubs. No matter your skill or knowledge level, you will always leave a violet meeting feeling a little more encouraged and excited to get back home to your own plants. Each and every member of a club has something unique to offer, whether it be an interesting tip, a useful new tool or that one variety you've searched for high and low. Learning hands-on how to do something you've only read about opens a whole new world in your hobby, and it gives you enough confidence to go home and try it. And then, once you've successfully done it, and you see how well your plants respond, you're hooked on the club. Who knows what you'll learn next time? What is truly priceless about being in a club is spending quality time talking plants with people who talk back instead of looking at you cock-eyed like you're a crazy plant nerd. And although that may be true, as long as we're among our own kind, we feel like we're home.