Friday, May 4, 2007

Community Gardening on Week 5

From: DMS
Sent: Thursday, May 03, 2007 11:29 PM
Subject: Community Gardening on Week 5

Tomorrow is CP's birthday. She turns one. I've learned so much since this time last year. Mostly I've learned what I'm capable of: behaviors once considered only hypothetical being put into practice, feeling a shift from one type of living to another. I'm grateful that the shift has been happening gradually over the last year because learning to live with a new baby and learning to live in a society recreating itself are two kinds of upheaval that you don't want to navigate simultaneously.

My husband and I, along with a small group of committed volunteers, operate a community garden non-profit here in Tucson. We manage five gardens in this town of just under 1 million. Most are backyard gardens large enough to support 10-20 80-square-foot plots. Our members grow an astonishing array of foods. Two days ago our phones started ringing with requests from people who want to turn their backyards into gardens. "What do we do?" they ask, "What to buy? How to start?" We can only give them a brief sketch over the phone, information that is pointless without additional hands-on direction. More planning is needed that you can imagine to start a garden, and even more than that to make it produce season after season. Here in Tucson, we're getting ready to move into the heat of summer and lots of people will coax the wrong tiny seedlings into life, only to see them falter and die in six weeks as the temperatures climb.

I try to calm the concern I hear in their voices. They want an instant solution, someone to give them a list they can check off to ward against the uncertainty. I tell them to come to a garden meeting on Saturday. We still have one plot open in one garden, and maybe they'll be the lucky ones who join the established group. I tell them to talk to their neighbors, get together a group of at least 6, and select the most promising backyard. If they can form a cohesive group, I can come to them and tell them what next steps to take (irrigation, planting calendars, pest control, non-petroleum fertilization) and help them get started, though they won't see significant results until late summer, after the heat has peaked. I tell them to contact the community supported agriculture program in our area to see if farm shares are still available and if they can, to get on that list.

We are only three people and two cats in this house in an urban neighborhood. In the backyard we have seven rows of vegetables just for our own family use. This is our second full year with this garden and our bounty is enough that we eat fresh produce every day. We have two chickens and get two eggs per day. We could not yet live alone only on the produce from our yard. We would need to plan better to do that: to make sure we never missed an opportunity to put in a new crop, to harvest every fruit or seed as it becomes ready, to can or freeze or dry every surplus, to save the seeds for next year's planting. It's only time we're lacking to make and practice these plans. We garden in the mornings and in the evenings on either end of work, and on the weekends until the day becomes too hot and sunburn threatens. The garden used to be a kind of expensive hobby: such effort and cost for backyard tomatoes when the grocery has them for $2 or $3 per pound. It has the potential to provide a reliable source of produce; I hope we are up to the task.

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