In the late summer here in Baltimore, I go to sleep to the comforting hum of crickets and awaken early before the the air thickens with humidity. And during mealtimes, I feast on fat, red tomatoes and bright yellow squash. I savor the comfort of freshly cooked beans, the zing of peppers, and cucumbers and the coolness of cucumbers. The abundance of the harvest.
During the growing season, I take a home a colorful array of produce fresh-picked from my neighborhood’s community garden. One of the reasons I love this community (organic) garden is the sharing of tasks and the sharing of the day’s pickings. At other community gardens I’ve heard about, each person has her/his own plot of land. Instead, we all take turns doing various tasks in our community garden, led by a small group of experienced and mostly elder gardeners who advise us on the tasks for the day.
While we’re working — planting seeds, shoveling compost, weeding, harvesting — we’re chit-chatting about our lives, swapping stories.
We do our gardening together, on Wednesday evenings or Saturday or Sunday mornings, and sign up online, in advance. I like to work Wednesday evenings, beginning at 6, when the air is beginning to cool. We begin our sessions by standing around the garden shed, where a whiteboard lists the tasks for the day. I’ll usually pair off with a more experienced gardener, learning by watching and doing.
One day I might be shoveling compost. Another day might be focused on planting seeds or replanting and watering delicate new plants into comfortable new homes in the soil. I’ve learned techniques for proper weeding and have set up trellises. Last week I picked peppers, including varieties I’d never seen before. Every week I learn or do something new!
At the end of the hour-and-a-half work session, we place the day’s harvest on a tarp or table, and our leaders let us know how much we can take when the pickings of one vegetable or fruit are slim. A volunteer delivers any of the remaining produce to a local food pantry, so others can enjoy the gifts of the garden.
My experiences in the garden have nurtured my soul. As a new member of the community, I feel recognized and included. We feel kinship with the plants and animals around us, too. We invite the pollinators with flowers, praise the earthworms, bless the bees, and feel our spirits dance around the bright and cheerful orange marigolds.
My experiences in the garden have nurtured my soul.
In the garden, we had a workshop on composting, where we learned how to take better care of the soil. And from this lovely, rich soil, sprouting from seeds, have emerged the tomatoes and yellow squash and Japanese eggplants that I will enjoy today, and tomorrow, and the day after that.
A community garden is one way to open ourselves to the web of life: our neighbors, human and non-human.
Let’s enjoy the feast!