Tucked away inside a tomato cage, I smile.
“I think Yolande just harvested some beans.” I call back. “How about you eat those?” After pausing for her response I return to weeding the tomatoes. Silence means that she’s munching on beans.
The most rewarding aspect of participating in a community garden is feeling connected to the food we eat. Spending hours researching and writing about the direction our food supplies have gone in can make a person feel despondent. But after a few minutes in the garden, my mood always shifts. As well as showing my kids where food comes from, I’m also learning how to grow vegetables myself. And I know that there are more and more people in cities doing the same thing we are.
I have black thumbs. My mom and husband tease me mercilessly about my inability to keep a houseplant alive for more than a few months. But at the community garden I’m not in charge of the plants. I just get to help out and learn about agriculture without the risk of killing everything.
Each session, I arrive ready to do whatever I am asked, whether it’s watering or weeding, thinning seedlings, harvesting produce or turning the compost. While growing food is hard work, the learning curve is fortunately steep. After just a few summers, I now know how to harvest most of our vegetables and herbs, which flowers are edible, and what kohlrabi and Jerusalem artichokes look like. And my daughter, while skipping around the garden with her mini watering can, knows not to step in the beds, and always asks before trying to eat something.
Yes. My four-year-old likes to pull things off the plants and eat them. How many kids hate vegetables? As a great admirer of Jamie Oliver, I’ve watched him show vegetables to classes full of kids who couldn’t tell a tomato from a potato. And who would eat something if they don’t know what it is? I don’t imagine that most kids in my neighbourhood have ever seen, never mind tasted kale. But here I am, in a garden around the corner from my house, watching my daughter happily chomp on the raw kale that she helped to plant a couple of months ago.
There are other benefits of being involved in a community garden. As well as reaping the rewards of a bountiful harvest, I’m also getting to know more people in my community. The organization in charge of the garden holds workshops and other activities to help educate our community about food security, how to prepare our harvest, and how to store food for the fall and winter. Plus, most Saturdays after our gardening session, the gardeners join in a group lunch, sharing food and recipes, as well as tips on how to prepare the more obscure veggies.
I’m proud to tell you that I now have a kitchen counter full of herbs. Not only have I managed to keep several plants alive, I’m even growing basil from the cuttings I received in my CSA basket. While a year or two ago, I would have had a wilted, brown herb skeleton on my counter by now, I can happily say that my time spent tending the veggies in the garden is paying off.