My very first experience of gardening was with a community garden at my seminary. My husband, some friends, and I went in together on a ten dollar 10′ x 20′ plot. Our friends had years of experience from working in their families’ gardens while my husband and I had the gift of location. Our apartment was steps from the garden plot and the water hose that we would become well acquainted with that summer.
We learned a lot from our friends Nathan and Libby that first summer. They taught us how to prepare the soil by adding in compost and manure. They showed us which veggies could be planted as seeds and which were better put in as plants. They made the ever present job of weeding seem fun by sharing stories as we worked bed after bed. As much as sharing the load of weeding and watering made gardening easier, sharing the harvest made our bounty more enjoyable as well. Our school hosted a series of community dinners that summer where we perfected our new bulgur squash casserole recipe (If you’ve ever grown squash you know that when they make, they make a ton!). We enjoyed sharing tomatoes with our neighbors and comparing salsa experiments with friends.
We have continued the tradition of gardening in our various houses and backyards, but I’ve always missed that summer of gardening with others. It was a “friends divide your hardships and multiply your joys”moment, but with food.
It is with this background that I watched the film A Place at the Table at Bare Bulb Coffee this past fall. I listened to Jeff Bridges walk us through food deserts, food stamp red tape, and other realities of childhood hunger with growing frustration. As I watched a little girl joyfully unpack the box her church delivered from their food pantry, a box filled ramen noodles, easy mac, sticky buns, and a host of other processed carbs, I hit a wall. Most of those items aren’t even allowed in my house as I barely consider them food. Yet, this was going to be the selection of food this little girl ate for the next few days. I thought of my own children who have the privilege of whining about having to finish the fruits and vegetables that daily decorate their plates and groaned at the disparity.
A thought kept coming to me as I worried not only about the little girl’s hunger, but also her lack of nutrition. Instead of sending over a box of processed foods, why didn’t the church that was aiding them just grow something for them to eat? They all lived in a rural area. It would have been fairly easy to plow up some land and put down some plants. And once you get the hang of gardening, it can be affordable as well as nutritious.
As I asked that question to the people in the movie, it boomeranged back on myself. You see my own community of friends at this coffee shop has been providing a low-income daycare with bags of food for hungry kids. And what have I been buying in bulk to put in those bags? You guessed it . . . ramen and easy mac. On a good day granola bars. Because it was so cheap and easy. Ouch.
From that night on, a seed was planted.
This idea of a community garden at the daycare began to grow and grow in my mind.
I started batting it around with friends. They all thought it made sense too. We talked to the director of the daycare. She was all about it. We put out some teasers out on facebook and among friends. People started lining up to help with the project. People donated supplies and money to cover the cost.
So last weekend, a group of us gathered out back of the daycare. We built frames and poured dirt until we had built the beginnings of a garden. In a week we will gather there with a class of kindergarteners to put in plants together. Then once or twice a week we will weed and water together and see what grows.
Frankly, I can’t wait to see what comes of it. And I don’t just mean the tomatoes and carrots that will now be a part of the children’s lunches. For any good community garden grows relationships as much as it does food.
So next time you are at the grocery and are wandering through the produce section, send up a little prayer or good wish for our little garden project will you? That the winds and waters will be kind enough to send a good harvest our way. That good things will continue to grow among those of us who gather together with dirty hands and full hearts.
Today I have the privilege of hosting my lovely blogging group here at Centering Down. To read more wonderful posts on “What is Growing in Your Life?” click on the cute blue frog below.