Kudzu Kollege

Last week I attended the Spartanburg Kudzu Coalition’s “Kudzu Kollege.”

Newt Hardy, the coalition’s founder and one of the organization’s directors, has been after me for years to “get my degree” in advanced kudzu removal, and it finally worked out.

The Kudzu Coalition is a nonprofit organization founded in 2001. It’s run exclusively by volunteers. You can see their white “kudzu control site” signs all over town.

They’re dedicated to the removal of kudzu, and what makes them unique is that they invent and modify methods that do not involve chemical applications. They also have a passion for getting local students involved.

They’ve even explored ways of using heavy machinery and farm equipment for reining in imposing tracts of kudzu, including the modification of a small tractor, renamed “Kudzilla,” complete with red reptilian comb. You might call the brainstorming breakfasts the group has every Monday morning, “the Center for Advanced Kudzu Studies.”

All of this makes the Kudzu Coalition one of the most interesting and effective “green” organizations in Spartanburg.

What finally led me into the Kudzu Coalition’s important and wide-ranging local work is that I wanted to see the inner workings of the coalition first hand, and scheduling Kudzu Kollege offered a way to introduce Wofford students to the local phenomenon as well.

My teaching colleague professor Kaye Savage was all for it, and willingly gave up a lab period in her ES 101 class. She’s an earth scientist, and the Kudzu Coalition involves engineers, horticulturalists, environmentalists, farmers, civic activists and educators.

What better way to show environmental studies students that the most effective method for solving complex environmental problems is through interdisciplinary teamwork?

So, last Monday afternoon Newt and several other coalition members came to our new Glendale Shoals Environmental Studies Center and held class. We learned that the vines can grow a foot a day, or ninety feet in a season, that if you dig up and remove the “crown” of the kudzu (“a bundle of buds”) you can stop the plant’s advance in its tracks, and that the kudzu roots, once separated from the crown, can’t send out new sprouts.

We learned, to our horror, that there are seven million acres of out of control kudzu in the Southeast, and that Spartanburg alone has a thousand.

On the bright side, we heard how kudzu could help treat alcoholism, how, believe it or not, it makes a good quiche, and how a Rutherford County, N.C., farmer is growing kudzu commercially to feed livestock, one of the few positive stories in an ugly botanical history of what I’ve called here in this column “a good vine gone bad.”

Thursday Paul David Blakeley brought “Kudzilla” to the site and motored like General George Patton into a vast sea of privet and kudzu. It was a something to see and showed me how inventive this group of kudzu warriors has become.

Then on Saturday Paul Savko and several other coalition volunteers led the follow-up “lab” for a few hardy souls interested in finishing our degrees. Professor Savage, one determined Wofford student named Kat and I helped remove a large number of crowns that day and we communed with the bold creek. We ate hard candy on a kudzu break. It lifted our spirits and blood sugar on a raw, wet, late autumn morning.

So, after an intensive classroom and lab session I’m a certified kudzu warrior, a Samuri of invasive site patrol, a doctor of deleted Southern species. My kudzu diploma will soon take its place on my office wall next to my MFA in creative writing.

[Kudzu Telegraph now has its own web video channel. On YouTube search for “kudzutelegraph” to see brief videos of “Kudzilla” in action and the removal of a kudzu crown by Paul Savko.]

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