One of the parts of this garden project I love the most is the sense of community that I receive when we pick up the plants or attend the workshops. Gardening, at its best, is a communal activity. In an idealized world, I would have learned the arts of companion planting and soil amendments from my parents or grandparents, but I grew up in a densely populated urban center in an apartment that never saw so much as a container tomato plant. In my twenties, I started to wonder where my food came from and later, in my thirties, began to try my hand at planting a garden. As many of you know, gardening, especially in the beginning, is akin to learning a foreign language. Without someone to show you the way (and even with a skilled guide), gardening comes with its share of inevitable failures and setbacks. Why did the peppers only produce a small harvest? Why did the squash never come to fruition? What was the name of the bug attacking the potatoes and how do I get rid of it? When gardening in isolation, these questions can become overwhelming and produce a sense of fatalism: maybe I’m just not that “good” at it; maybe I didn’t inherit a green thumb, etc. Gardening in community, though, lends itself to resilience and optimism – it strengthens the web and builds confidence. In addition to the knowledge shared and the feeling of community, gardening in this program provides the financial security needed to invest in a garden project that will likely yield long-term benefits for the whole family. As a single parent, trying to find the extra money necessary for fertilizer, compost, seeds, starts, twine, posts, garden tools, etc., especially in this economy, is daunting, to say the least, and definitely a disincentive for starting a garden of one’s own. This program provides the literal and metaphorical tools needed to ensure I can reap a harvest for my children that will outlast this particular growing season. We have family time to plant. We learn about growth mindset and use the garden to problem solve. We learn patience as we watch the tender new pea shoots slowly wend their way up the teepees we created. We learn to listen and to pay attention. I learn the value of “I don’t know,” as we watch the mysteries of the earth unfold. But because of the other gardeners here, I do know who to ask when my children pepper me with “Why” and “How Long” and “What are those?” Not only does this garden provide a sense of food security, it is a more intrinsic, and radical, re-membering, to quote Wendell Berry.
Gardener Story: Rebecca Stephens
by Rachel Slaughter | May 9, 2023 | Build It Up