We are a few weeks into the Cherished Children’s garden project now. As you may have read earlier, a few months ago a seed of an idea started growing about starting a community garden at a low-income daycare in town. The hope was that the children who helped with the garden would not only learn where food came from and how it grows, but would have access to healthy veggies that they would try and hopefully learn to love after having grown the food themselves. Any expectations I had about what it would be like to plant a garden with 20 five-year-olds were totally blown away. It was chaotic of course. They are kindergarteners after all. But it was the kind of chaos that comes with excitement and creativity and engaged curiosity. I had no idea they would love planting seeds so much. I had no idea they would plant as many seeds as we could give them. I had no idea I would love planting these seeds with them as much as I did. As I thought back on the planting day again and again, a memory came to my mind of when I first saw a garden. I was probably around five years old myself and spending an afternoon at my grandparents’ home. My Grandaddy tilled up the “back 40” of their lot every year and put in tomatoes, beans, greens, onions and the like. I’ll never forget the first time he let me help him with the garden. It was freshly planted, all moist soft dirt with a few baby plants showing and seeds still kept secret under the ground. My Grandad was showing me the different rows and was telling me what was planted in each one. Because the garden was so new, he kept emphasizing how we didn’t want to step on any of the plants or seeds as they were still delicate, still taking root in the new soil.
After seeing that I didn’t really know where to step or what was what, my Grandad came up with a great way of teaching me where to walk. He taught me to follow after him and walk in his footsteps.
Now this was no small feet for a little kid. I had to almost jump to make my footfalls match his. But I trailed after my Grandaddy all that afternoon. In fact I trailed after him much longer than that. Sunny afternoon after sunny afternoon found me checking on the plants with him or shelling beans with he and my Grandmother on their back porch. When I first thought back to these memories, I realized how lucky I was to grow up seeing food grow and eating so many fresh vegetables every Sunday afternoon at my grandparent’s home. But as the weeks at the garden have continued on, I realize I was lucky for far more than that.
For the truth about gardens is they grow more than green beans.
As I watched this group of boys work so hard to put the bamboo up for the pole beans to trail on last week, I realized these poles were going to help more than just some bean vines stand up tall and strong. It was as if I could see these boys growing right before my eyes in this moment, knowing they could dig in the dirt and make something good happen, knowing they could be strong. It was in that moment that I realized how I was really starting to walk in my Grandaddy’s big footprints. For the truth is he probably didn’t walk me out to the garden that day just so I’d know what a tomato plant looked like.
He did it so I would know what love looked like.
And I’m beginning to understand that’s the reason why we are going back week after week to garden with these kids. Because even though we are weeks away from harvesting any green beans or cucumbers, we are already getting bushel after bushel of hugs. And even if the carrots don’t make or the birds eat our tomatoes, we’ll still have grown something that will nourish these 20 kindergarteners.