My love for community gardens began back in 2006, when I worked at Case Western Reserve University and helped redesign the University Farm website. I so enjoyed my time there, learning the history of the Manor House and leading a hiking group across fields, along ponds and dirt garden paths.
Word on the street was that folks were doing something with all those abandoned lots in the city. They were turning things back into greenspace, and soon, I was wanting to get involved with the transformation of worn, weary lots.
I bought a house in Cleveland in 2007. I got involved with some community groups and wrote a grant to paint a mural. We decided on a design that was reminiscent of the way Old Brooklyn used to be, complete with wide open fields and greenhouses.
For exercise, I would often ride my bike past Ben Franklin Community Garden. I would stop by and visit with the gardeners, and decided to volunteer during the summer of 2012. It was right around harvest time, so I would stop by with my van, load up some fresh produce and deliver it to the Manna House Recovery Resource, a food pantry in the Fairfax neighborhood. In 2013, I decided to purchase my own plot at the garden and blog about my experience as a first-time gardener.
And so begins my journey ….
I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up and saw a sea of empty lots. The soil was freshly graded and we were one of the few groups of gardeners that showed up before mid-day.
I had never planted a single anything, really, so I was waiting for Tom and Darlene to offer some directive. The two of them moved quickly, measuring plot lines, pulling string, and grabbing gardening tools and seed packets. Soon, they were telling me what I needed to do to make our garden come together.
Darlene’s family had a garden near Puritas, so gardening was nothing new to her. She talked about her grandmother, who made her own wine and root beer. She also learned how to grow potatoes from her uncle in Ashland.
Tom grew up in Columbia Station and remembered a family garden that produced enough food to last them through the winter. So between the two of them, I felt like I had a really good gardening team. They taught me how to dig pocket-size trenches, sprinkle tiny bits of seed and space things apart, evenly and just right.
Within two hours, we had a section set aside for lettuce and plenty of room for tomatoes, carrots and cucumber, too. My sister Cathy started some herbs for me, so we should have plenty of parsley, basil and cilantro for our garden.
We staked and raked and spread and watered till we thought we had enough. We talked about words like “triangulation” and described “indeterminant” plants and other things.
I was going to learn something here!
In the meantime, we are to water like mad. And then again the next day, and the next day too.