Community gardening: collective wisdom

June 1, 2013

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: General News Stories from the Garden

Growing up in Houston, Texas, my mom kept a garden nearly year-round. As a little girl my mom would poke holes into the ground at the appropriate width and distance and have me carefully place bean or cantaloupe seeds inside. Those early years made an impression on me, but I never took the initiative to ask questions about what she planted where and why, or how she improved the soil or avoided damage from pests.

When I moved to DC 15 years later, I began to take an interest in growing my own food. Two seasons of attempting to grow tomatoes and peppers in front of my rowhouse–which suffered from lack of full sun and rodents–both discouraged me and motivated me to seek out a communal garden space. I knew I could benefit both from the space set apart in full sunlight as well as the collective wisdom that emerges from growing in a shared space.

For that reason, I was really excited to discover that I had been accepted into the Neighborhood Farm Initiative’s Adult Education Program for the summer.  

It was rainy our first class day, but that didn’t stop most participants from coming out to learn about the most fundamental aspect to gardening – soil quality. Joe, our instructor, is a teacher in his ‘other life’ & offers clear and engaging presentations of information.

Classmates were encouraged to get to know each other and share where we’re from, as a way of ‘locating’ the knowledge each of us might have about weather. I was struck by the variety in ages and of gardening-related experiences, as well as the hospitable environment which welcomed classmate’s to bring loved ones alongside them to help in their 12’x12′ plots throughout the week.

It has also been wonderful to feel like our class is part of a larger growing community with much wisdom to soak up. Each Saturday volunteers have been working in the demonstration garden, and are eager to give tours and show how they’ve grouped plants together based on their botanical families, companion families (more on this in a future post), or in groups that help fight pests from each other. It appears that both the plants and the gardeners are interested in working together for mutual benefit!

We’ve only begun our summer of growing & learning from one another, and I’m eager to see what it holds. I’ll be reflecting each week on the collective wisdom that emerges from this summer’s class — I hope you’ll check in frequently to read what we’re learning about!

Jenn Svetlik has, for nearly all of her five years so far living in DC, sought out garden space, and is grateful to be a member of NFI’s Adult Education Program for the 2013 season. She’ll be reflecting on the experience throughout the summer. 

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