At the garden, there is always something new

July 20, 2011

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: General News

The first time I volunteered in early June, I weeded around what were then stubby melon plants just sprouting from the soil. Two weeks later, my fellow volunteers and I were laying mulch around tomato plants and basil—everything needed mulching. Last Saturday weeding and mulching were on order again, but there was also harvesting. Those stubby melon plants from early June? Why, they’d grown up to be juicy edible melons. Cucumbers, cabbages, collards, and swiss chard were ready to be freed from the soil too.

Here’s what stays the same: when I arrive, I go to Liz, who runs the joint. She knows what needs to be done. Last Saturday, she took me and fellow volunteer Lauren to beds covered in dullish, golden mulch, and this mulch had been invaded. “See that grass?” she said. “That’s not supposed to be there.” She speculated that the hay may have been harvested too soon and carried some grass seedlings. “So if you’ll just run your hands under the mulch and lift those blades up, they’ll dry out and that should take care of it.” All righty, then. We set to work. No sense in grass growing where it isn’t meant to grow.

There are always new people too. Last week, I mixed up my usual Wednesday evening volunteering and came on Saturday morning instead. Clara, the committed intern with an earthy-elegant style was there, this time with her summer-hatted mom and friend Rachel. They planted beans. Also there was Nora, 33, with short black hair, mod sunglasses, and a ready smile. She’s thinking about a career change from the non-profit sector to farm school; and there was Lauren in a baseball cap who’s going through big changes herself. A recent college grad, she just moved from Chicago to D.C. for a job at the Brookings Institution. These women went after whatever needed to be done.

Pulling up grass, putting down mulch, and pitching in stakes to twine up sprawling tomatillo plants, we worked and talked. The time passed quickly. Gardening, like other creative endeavors, is one of the closest approximations to childhood play I’ve experienced in my adult life. At the garden, I do not wear a watch. I do not keep my phone on my person. I’m meeting people. I’m discovering, I’m seeing what’s growing and seeing what might impede that growth. While digging a hole for a stake to raise the tomatilloes, I unearthed a Japanese beetle. “Squash it!” pronounced Nora. Now, I am one of those suburban-raised sentimentalists who feels guilty about squashing anything, but Nora, who remembers picking corn from her parents’ garden when she was a girl, knows about the tough mother love a gardener must give to her own. Harmful species, be gone!

This garden is a community. I’m always learning from the plants and the people who make it.

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