This past weekend I finally got to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I joined a community garden.
Ever since I moved to Staunton, Virginia, I’ve unfortunately had very little garden space.
First I was in an apartment with no yard access, and then my boyfriend Erik (now my husband) bought me a beautiful brick Victorian city house with almost no yard space. What little space we do have is perched five feet up from the sidewalk, a situation that proved perilous when Erik fell off the wall in our first attempt at gardening here, breaking his arm and seriously smacking his noggin’ on the concrete. Thankfully he recuperated. But the garden didn’t.
Needless to say, gardening at home has its limitations, as my daughter Chloë wrote about in a piece for Transition Voice.
Seeds for change
But three years ago a local group called The Seed, headed up by husband and wife team Cliff and Willie Jones, started a community garden in what was then their somewhat troubled neighborhood. Cliff had grown up in the area and decided to move back to help restore his childhood neighborhood and reinvigorate the community.
The Seed has done just that.
For the past two years they’ve cleaned the neighborhood, invited residents to participate, worked with local agencies to gain access to land, sought partnerships with businesses and organizations willing to donate needed items and planted and reaped two harvests of food to share within the Stafford Street neighborhood and beyond.
This year The Seed invited members of the broader Staunton community to tend plots in the garden and we jumped at the chance.
On Saturday, we joined partner organization Transition US in the 350 Home and Garden Challenge by working with The Seed on their first big planting day. The community portion of the garden went in, and other participants, like our family and local Transition group, started digging, planting, tamping, watering and then…eating. Turns out Willie and some other ladies whipped up a Southern feast for celebrating the hard work.
Of course I’m glad I can now garden, and have enough food planted for many a feast and plenty to share. I plan to get into my first big year of canning, freezing and drying this year, too.
And I’m thrilled over the long-missed feeling of good hard labor and glad to be reconnecting to Mother Earth in a meaningful way. The whole weekend was so therapeutic and healing for our family. My girls had really missed gardening, too. And Erik got to swing a pick axe at every hard clump of dirt in sight. He likes his workouts all purposeful like that.
The garden meets another core value for our family, too. It’s only about eight blocks from our house, making it an easy walk or bike ride — if you don’t count the killer hills!
But more than food, fitness and fun for my family, I discovered the magic that so many people who get involved with community garden projects talk about. It was truly wonderful to work side-by-side with members of our adjoining neighborhoods. It was great to see each others’ work, to lend a hand, to get help, and then to sit back afterwards over potato salad, barbecue chicken, sugar beans and lemonade to get to know our neighbors and new friends even better.
So if, like me, you’ve had a hankering to get back into a garden, but didn’t feel you were able to in one way or another, or don’t want to do it alone, look around for a community garden in your neck of the woods. There may still be plots left as we’re finally at that magical post-frost date in most regions when it’s safe again to plant. If you find a community garden, but the plots are full, get involved anyway. Weeding definitely leads to food down the line, and friendships along the way.
And if there’s no neighborhood garden where you are, start one. Even if it doesn’t get off the ground this year, a year of slow planning will put you where you need to be come next year, just in time for the next 350 Home and Garden Challenge.
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List