What happens when a group of people decide to garden together in a community garden, as opposed to gardening their individual plots in adjacency? I’m about to find out!
Previous Gardening Experience. . . Not So Much
The idea of community gardening has always intrigued me, and I’ve been thinking about it all the more after realizing the limitations of my own growing space. A few years ago I ripped out a large portion of my front yard with dreams of edible landscaping. Alas, the trees which are great for keeping our home cool without air conditioning in 90+ degree Michigan summers are not so great for growing things, even “shade tolerant” vegetables like lettuce. Much of what I’d hoped to be food production area has reverted to perennial herbs, native plants, and grass.
It’s probably just as well that our garden is limited to a line of smart pots along the driveway, since marathon and triathlon training seems to consume so much of our time in the summer. Still, there’s something satisfying and spiritual about planting something, watching it grow, and eating it off the vine.
I’d considered community gardening before, but it seemed like such a hassle to figure out which ones had openings, what the rules were, and I wondered how much I would really produce from a 10×20 plot and having to haul my stuff back and forth. My dad even offered to let me have as much room in his huge garden as I’d like, but he lives 45 minutes away so at best I’d only be able to help him out once a week. That didn’t seem fair to expect him to do the majority of it. I do enjoy helping him tend his garden when I visit, though. I have fond memories of summers spent weeding onions on our family farm.
For the past several years I’ve been part of a CSA that offers on-farm opportunities, so I’ve been able to get my fresh vegetables and occasional experiences (again, the travel thing) while supporting local food. I’ve also had a half-hearted “garden” in the aforementioned smart pots.
Community Gardens vs Gardening in Community
This year, however, I’ll be participating in the Seeds of Friendship Community Garden at a nearby church. The organization for which I work (World Renew) is encouraging faith-based organizations to shift from a plot model to a growing-in-community model, and awarded grants to five different sites to provide technical assistance to the gardeners. Seeds of Friendship is one of those recipients.
Our first meeting was last week, and the neighbors seem eager to try something new–which is great, because we were nervous that people might not like “giving up” their individual plot. They didn’t seem to mind, though, and are especially looking forward to having an expert help with the growing! It was mostly a dreaming session, and we found ourselves learning about each other as we offered our various areas of expertise. We dreamed of canning sessions, pesto making events, community potato tower classes, learning about lacto-fermented salsa, and more.
The church hosting the site has so much to offer: The large gardening space, a work shop, a huge kitchen, and a relationship with a refugee community. The latter we hope to invite to participate with the garden, and grow foods native to their part of Eastern Africa.
I should mention that the organization helping with the technical assistance is a nonprofit called Urban Roots. They help organizations all around Grand Rapids, MI develop intensive urban farms and have a mobile classroom that provides full garden support as well as educational opportunities. We’ll be meeting with them once a week to learn and get our marching orders for the garden until our next meeting.
I look forward to working on this project, learning more about gardening, but even more–learning about community. I’m sure there will be difficulty as we learn to share the workload, responsibilities, and figure out how to distribute the produce. I keep having to reel in my optimism, because I know all too well how easy it is to get excited looking at seed catalogs and dreaming of canning tomatoes. The planting, weeding, and harvesting is going to be a lot of work.
Bring it on!
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