This weekend we broke ground on our community garden. Emphasis on the community. After laying out the garden for 90 minutes on the first day, a neighbor popped down to mention that while she liked the garden, weren't we taking up a lot of grass? Because children need that grass to play, you see. I tried to keep my cool, suddenly fearful that all the planning, effort and negotiation over the previous weeks would crumble before the dirt was even moved.
Soon, more neighbors stopped by. Everyone had an opinion, but together we came to a new, and even better solution. Rather than having 4 beds with 3 square sections, we could have 3 longer beds, with 4 sections. If we made these parallel, they could move over to the side of the yard, where it was sunnier. This would leave ample grass space -- never mind that we have the largest backyard in the neighborhood. Getting rid of grass is, inevitably, a political act.
In truth, most people were overwhelmingly supportive of the garden project, in stark contrast to my NIMBY fears. People wanted a space to garden -- to experiment with growing food, to meet one another, to play with their children. They just didn't know how to do it, and they didn't want to put in the upfront time and effort to make it happen.
Over the last two days, we got the beginnings of these desires fulfilled. I shook hands with neighbors I hadn't met in two and a half years. I learned all about the nine year old kid who lives in the other building, including about his superb work ethic. I remembered that when work needs to happen, your best friends show up. And I discovered one neighbor's love of gin and tonics, which he raised as an important topic of conversation every 20 minutes. This all before a single sprout was planted outdoors and before the beds were finished.
We were building raised beds in the first place because the soil has lead in it. An enduring imprint from the past, where lead was put in gasoline, pesticides and paint. If people hadn't decided to sprinkle this heavy metal around the world, then our backyard would just require some simple digging. Instead, we needed to build two feet deep beds and order a literal truckload of soil. Oh the joys of unanticipated consequences and the legacy we humans leave for future generations.
The project was more ambitious than I initially anticipated. Buying the lumber alone took a full afternoon. But the salesperson's sheer delight when he learned what we were up to made the long day with a forgotten lunch worth it. He explained he didn't have a place to garden right now, because he'd moved to the city. But insisted on high-fiving us as we wheeled our endless frames out the door. And getting the material was just the start. It took two long days of work outdoors and many helping hands to move 15 cubic yards (!) of soil into place. And even now, our three 16 foot beds will not grow enough food for even one family.
Gardening in an apartment building in the city is hard. You don't have endless tracks of land to experiment with new heirlooms. You can't have chickens, at least not where we are. But what you can do is organize people who wouldn't be gardening if you weren't there. Kids -- there are 8 in my building -- get particularly excited. They spent the whole day outside both days, climbing on dirt piles, singing songs while raking and rolling around on the ground. It turns out kids do just fine with a little less grass.
Community gardening is a revolutionary act. You don't just grow vegetables, you change other people's daily experience -- beginning on day one of the project. While we were moving the soil, I asked one of the kids if he liked tomatoes. He said he'd never tried one. At five years old, he was only familiar with ketchup. Very familiar. Another mom said her daughters wouldn't touch kale. We'll see if that stays true by the end of the summer. As Ron Finley says in this must-watch TED video, "when kids grow kale, kids eat kale." Gardening is gangsta.
Before we knew what the weekend would hold -- perfect 14°C weather, scores of helping hands and hilarious children who invented a "raking committee" -- I sat down with my husband to have a good breakfast. Not a farmers breakfast; we're still in the city after all. But a proper gardener's breakfast: six-minute soft boiled eggs on toast with ample pea-shoots and a smattering of prosciutto. And then we took to the garden.