I have struggled for some time to articulate my new found passion and trials and overwhelming feelings for community gardening.
I remember my first perspective about this mysterious idea. It seemed it was people who planted food in the ground, sometimes together, sometimes sharing the responsibility of weeding. Then you harvest the bounty and go on your way. Meet some folks, share some fun. It was low investment, low risk. It appeared clean, compartmentalized, easy.
Now let me tell you about my day.
Today was scheduled to be for writing and errands and cleaning the house. Tomorrow is my big garden day. I will learn how to build some planting boxes, fix the strawberry pallets, pull weeds and haul a couple truck loads of dirt. That's the plan. Tomorrow.
This morning, I needed to take my son to school early to take a test, which he was late for. Which in turn caused an argument between my husband and I. I took my husband to work, but was left feeling anxious over our fight. I sat in the car outside the coffee shop for 30 min. where I was too meet a group of fellow writers to work, and wrote my husband a letter over text. Seriously, I should know better. Then after walking into the coffee shop, exchanging pleasantries, I tried to settle into work, 45 min late.
That's when I got a call from my husband. He took time out of his work day for us to clear the air, share feelings, and get back on track. Whew. Now back to work. An hour and fifteen minutes late.
Resettle, refocus, start writing.
New phone call. This from Michael Channey, director of Project Sweetie Pie and Northside political urban farm activist. He called because one block from us there is a proposed Greenway space, to try to help revitalize our neighborhood. There is designated grant money available for community members to host events and bring awareness to the project. He was having a meeting with a grant writer that day at noon and wanted to me to join so we could use our garden as the location for a Jamaican Street Carnival. Super exciting, and of course I am interested.
Now my writing time went from 5 hours to 1.5.
Get back to work and accomplish small tasks.
Receive another phone call from a friend from Michael's who heard I had a garden and wants to give us plants. He lives just six blocks from me and we arranged a pick up after the kids were home from school. Awesome.
Closed down my work and headed to my impromptu meeting. I desperately need to stop for mouse traps before hand because, for real, they are taking over our house! They don't even wait till we go to bed anymore. I think they believe they are family friendly pets. This errand puts me running 20 minutes late to this meeting. I feel guilty for running behind, till I show up and realize I am the first to arrive. Cause you know, that's how we roll. Everyone else had random things come up. Meeting supposed to start at 12noon, and we finally got around to things around 1pm.
I wasn't real clear at the beginning of the meeting what my role was, or maybe what was expected of me, so I just figured I played a supporting role. After an hour of discussion, I am now writing articles about how community gardens foster relationships and connection for their monthly newsletter, writing a grant for funding for our street fair, and on the political team for urban farm activism. It was exciting and overwhelming, and I felt full of energy to be apart of something good and beautiful for our neighborhood. We talked about renewal and how we take steps towards bringing people out of their homes, out of their fear to meet their neighbors and forge relationships. Establish Trust. Meet and experience all different types of folks. For an hour, we worked as a team towards the grassroots efforts of how deeply community gardens effect neighborhoods. It isn't just about healthy food. It's not just about giving kids experience in the dirt. It is more than simply plants in the ground. A community garden gives us the opportunity on ever city level to build our neighborhood. We build through policy, activism, space, events and yes food.
As I was near the end of that meeting, I got another call from another neighbor who had a grape vine for our garden. I headed over to her house to pick it up so I could plant it that day. Made arrangements to borrow her truck the next day and headed home just in time to get my kids from school.
When everyone was settled, homework done and the boys were off to baseball practice at the park down the street, I put Lu in the car to go load up these plants that we were being given to the garden.
When we get to this mans house and Patsy our city wide compost leader was there, and we spent the next 30 min loading over 400!!!!!! plants in my car. I mean, I thought I was going for a handful. Maybe one flat. NOT 10 FLATS of veggies and flowers! It was all a little shady, as they were vague about where the seedlings come from. They don't want to give up the name, but they really want to donate to communities gardens. I looked at the woman who was helping load my car and said, "Did you just become my dealer?" She agreed, that's exactly what she was. It was left with a vague, "don't call me, I'll call you when I hear from my guy and I got more for you." I had to giggle at the ridiculousness of it.
I stayed for a few minutes chatting with my new friends and with Patsy, our compost leader. She started telling me about their new initiative in bringing four different gardens together to sell their overage harvest at the downtown farmers market. If these gardens can turn a profit, then it would turn these few gardens into farm land, which allows for a whole new set of rules and funding and possibility. It would open the door to change the game for fresh food and garden land in the city limits. It's a new grassroots movement to help and aid North Mpls. Patsy wants our garden to be apart of her program! Whew! More big and exciting news.
On our way home from the overwhelming amount of plants we have, FOR FREE, I got a call from another neighbor asking if we wanted her old rail road ties to use as borders for the garden. What?!?! OK! We will add that to the pick up for tomorrow. You know on my ACTUAL garden day.
As I was out in the garden this evening, I had four different groups of kids ask about our movie nights. I had another gentleman stop and talk about the Free Little Library. Then another neighbor came and offered to donate 2 4x4's so we could finish our fence. It's constant activity. It's constant connection. It's constant abundance and folks crave to be apart of something good happening here. Everyone wants to give a piece of themselves to the solution. To something real. It's overwhelming in the best possible way.
So, as I sit here tonight, with new articles and grant proposals and flyers to make, plus all the things I didn't get done today, I needed today to settle a bit in my soul.
This multidimensional, ever evolving, complicated project has kind of taken over my life. Literally. My own personal garden has become a holding place for community garden items. It's how I spend my time, what I think about, and what I write about. It isn't easy. At all. But it is so rewarding.
When you live in an underrepresented community, it is so very easy to feel afraid and displaced. Feelings of being overwhelmed and a little lost are common.
But the garden? A community garden changes all that. It gives a space for connection. It brings neighbors out to be together. But you must know, that when people get involved, it gets messy and complicated. It gets real and honest. It makes work slow, but friendships strong. It means there's too many cooks in the kitchen and no work getting done. It means you have to constantly change your plans so you can be present with what is actually happening. Have a plan and throw it out the window.
It requires your heart, your time, and your sacrifice. It means you give up time with your family, time for your hobbies and your work. This becomes your work. And yet you don't care because you realize you are apart of something greater. Something more than the story we are given. We get to be together, building strength in our numbers and in our dreams. We work together towards dreams and goals. Without programs and money, we make things happen. We bring beauty to our little neck of the world.
The other thing is that when you put that much of yourself into those gardens, you are literally putting your heart and soul out there. It makes you vulnerable and exposed. It is risky and challenging and you must surrender self for the whole. Though it asks so much of you, it only works when our focus is on each other.
It is beautiful and complicated and challenging and inspiring and fulfilling. Community gardens are never just about planting food. It is so much more.
It is rebuilding from the ground up.
It is connection to the earth and each other.
It is renewal of the earth and the soul.
It is being an agent of change.
It is life giving.
It is so much more than putting plants in the ground.